How much is really enough? Can we measure life simply by accumulated wealth? Can there be ‘good enough’ good in our life?
Edward Skidelsky and Robert Skidelsky attempted to answer these questions in their 2012 book How Much is Enough: Money and the Good Life. They proposed that “Good Life consists in realizing the “basic goods” (or ultimate goods or end-values) and they attempted to list these basic goods (with a note of caution that this may not be comprehensive).
Let me list them out here and describe them briefly for the readers:
- Health: Health refers to the full functioning of the body, the perfection of our animal nature. Health includes all things needed to sustain life, or a reasonable span of life, but is by no means limited to them. As officially defined by the WHO, good health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
- Security: Having security means an individual’s justified expectation that his life will continue more or less in its accustomed course, undisturbed by war, crime, revolution or major social and economic upheavals. Its about conservations of what one already has in one’s life. A secondary meaning includes fulfilment of basic security needs like having a comfortable home, incomes for sustenance, decent savings and insurance cover and so on.
- Respect: To respect someone is to indicate, by some formality or otherwise, that one regards his views and interests as worthy of consideration, as things not to be ignored or trampled on. In all practical situations, respect is a two-way street: giving respect, gets you respect. Living a healthy social life with its mannerisms and ground rules wins us respects and accords the same to others.
- Personality: By personality it is meant the ability to frame and execute a plan of life reflective of one’s tastes, temperament and conception of the good; to live freely as your genuine self. This requires a certain level of autonomy in life which is hard to have if one is bound by things like mortgages which force one to work or live in a restricted manner. Personality, in this sense, can be closely associated with wealth —an individual’s total assets minus his or her liabilities— that confers freedom to pursue an autonomous plan of life.
- Harmony with Nature: This involves living with the resolution that human beings are an inseparable part of nature, and that they cannot damage it without severely damaging themselves. Harmony with Nature is needed in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations
- Friendship: This is a necessarily inadequate translation of the ancient Greek philia, a term encompassing all robust, affectionate relationships. A father, spouse, teacher and workmate might all be “friends” in our sense of the term. It was the stoic philosopher, Seneca who said that with friendship caters to the basic need of being understood and understanding another. That makes in a basic ‘good’.
- Leisure: Leisure is that which we do for its own sake, not as a means to something else. This contrasts with contemporary use where leisure is synonymous with relaxation and rest. But leisure is not just time off work but a special form of activity in its own right.
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.”
― W.H. Davies, Common Joys and Other Poems
The book is important for a couple of reasons. First, its argument for the importance of identifying clear end “goods” beyond more material wealth. Second, the good life is identifiable and is universal.
Does this short blog post help you get some perspective into what may be good enough for you? Let me know in the comments.