3. WHY are you doing it? Will _________ (fill in the blank) engender health and happiness, love and connection, peace of mind and generosity of spirit? Or will it just provide you with more stuff, more stress, more stimulation? Do you really think it will benefit you or your loved ones, or are you just sort of addicted to having more—more money, more experiences, more gadgets, more going, getting, giving? Have you sacrificed the simple pleasures of everyday life for the illusion of more-is-better? And will future generations look back and wonder why we sacrificed their well-being for our addictions?
4. WHO are you doing it for? This is an important question. So much of our activity and consumerism is based on keeping up with the mythical Joneses. We imagine there's some sort of cosmic tribunal judging the worthiness of our life and comparing it to the lives of other mortal beings. And so we end up doing things, and being things, and buying things in an attempt to impress everyone from our parents to the Joneses to the big committee in the sky. Here's a little secret: If there is a cosmic committee, the members want something so much grander for you than more stuff or more status. And here's another tip—the Joneses are also comparing themselves to someone else—maybe even you. So whatever you do, do it for you—the deeper you. Put your energy into being your most genuine, fully alive and generous self. And start now, because…
5. WHEN do you stop striving and start living? When you work in order to achieve a future goal, whether it's to build the dream house or save the planet, you often forget to celebrate what's already in the house and on the planet. That's not to say you shouldn't dream or you shouldn't try to improve yourself or the world. But as the great civil rights activist Howard Thurman said: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." So, instead of longing for more, consider loving whatever bounty you already have. Instead of excess, cultivate excellence. And instead of later, do it now.
We should consider ourselves lucky just to be pondering the 5 W's. They are not the kinds of questions asked by people who are hungry or homeless or lacking the bare necessities for survival. Even so, the 5 W's are not easy things to pull off. Best to hold them as gentle guidelines. Discovering how much is enough is a path, not a prescription. The great Persian poet Rumi wrote some lines in the 12th century that still can guide us in the 21st:
be silently drawn
by the stronger pull
of what you really love.
There's a total game plan packed into those 14 words, starting with "silently." It's in the silence where we can discover how much is enough. If we just rush noisily from one thing to another, how will we ever feel the stronger pull that Rumi alludes to? How will we even know what we really love if we never drop down into the quiet waters of the heart? The next time you are faced with a "How much is enough?" dilemma, take a few deep breaths, dip down into the silence, and see if you can feel the stronger pull. And then follow it. It may not lead to the mall, but I promise it will bring you the golden treasure of enough.
Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder of Omega Institute, America's largest adult education center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity. She has studied and worked with leading figures in the fields of healing and spiritual development for decades. A former midwife and mother of three grown sons, Lesser is also the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and A Seeker's Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure and is a guest host of Oprah's Soul Series on Sirius/XM.