At the community farmers’ market in the park that I visit weekly, there’s a set of posters with questions on them and stickers for each person to put on the posters to answer the multiple-choice questions. One of the questions is, “Why didn’t you buy more at the farmer’s market today?” The choices are ones like, “Not enough selection,” “Too expensive,” etc.
What’s missing is the answer I always need to put: I bought plenty. Or, I bought enough. I bought what I needed and nothing more. I’m satisfied.
We’re missing a word for this concept in English. We need a word for getting the full use out of something, getting all the pleasure we can out of something, without being greedy or miserly and without going over the edge into excess. ‘Enough’ generally actually seems to imply not quite enough. ‘Plenty’ can mean enough or an overabundance. We need a word to use that means attaining a homeostasis of life, a state of abundance without overkill. See? It’s hard to even state it right with lots of words.
A few years ago I started to realize that I don’t need everything in the whole world. I just need enough to make me genuinely happy, and then I need to use what I have wisely. There’s a great book out there called The Paradox of Choice, and in that book the author, Barry Schwartz, argues that in the U.S. today, we have so many options for so many things that we are overwhelmed with them. We would, he says, be happier if we actually had fewer choices and drew more joy from the decisions we do have and the situations that life gives us without choices.
My life has grown more limited in some ways in the past few years. In the cause of living more sustainably, I’ve worked on cutting down on my consumption of the Earth’s resources. In developing the ability to feel in control of money (instead of having money control me), I’ve saved more and spent less. And in the process, I’ve realized that sometimes getting the most out of life doesn’t necessarily mean using everything that’s available on the planet. I can take care of myself best, in fact, if I concentrate on getting the most out of what I should use and leaving the rest behind.
I can get the best use of my body by exercising it regularly–to the point of growth but not to the point of pain. I can give myself a better opportunity for a long, fruitful life by keeping myself in motion.
I can make the most of the foods that are available to me by eating what will make me the healthiest and what will keep the planet healthiest–locally grown foods, organic foods, whole foods, foods with minimal packaging, foods without artificial ingredients, preservatives, and colorings.
I can reduce my consumption of resources, then reuse items when possible, and then recycle what I can’t.
I can get the most of out my financial life by focusing on saving for the future and for rainy days, spending money on what actually is important to me, giving some money away when it matters, and rerouting myself to what I really need when I am spending money for reasons that actually are not important to me or good for me–like buying because I’m upset, or buying because I am literally buying into some marketing. (Let me tell you, the peace of having money put away for a rainy day, after years of being terrible with money, is truly worth 1000 times whatever I could otherwise buy with that money.)
I can learn to make healthy foods that taste marvelous and do not contain my food allergens/intolerances (gluten, cow dairy, soy, egg, crab, lobster, oyster, tomato, white vinegar)–thereby keeping myself feeling good while indulging my foodie side.
I can make better use of money and the Earth’s resources by spending a bit more money on things I will keep for years and sharing, recycling, or doing without some of the things I won’t keep as long.
I can reach and maintain a healthy weight by eating foods that taste great and make me feel good. I can reach and maintain a healthy weight not by punishing myself, but by taking joy in taking care of myself.
I can take joy in the things that I love and reserve time and energy to explore some of them. I can have the best opportunity to experience some of them by scheduling them into my life.
I can enjoy the first two bites of dessert and let someone else finish the rest, knowing I’ve gotten the maximum pleasure from it with minimal calories.
I can find a balance between spending and saving that leaves me happy–that leaves me neither a miser nor a spendthrift.
I can live a life of pleasure without taking too much for myself.
I can hold on to what is worthy in life and let go of the rest.
‘Aprovechar’ is the infinitive of a Spanish verb that encompasses these things. ‘Aprovechar’ is to get the most of out life, whether it’s a piece of clothing, a symphony performance, or a job. It’s “to take advantage” in the most positive sense of that phrase. It’s to put to good use. It’s to live a fulfilling life in this time on Earth. It’s to be frugal–again, in the most positive sense. It’s a word we’re missing in English, and it’s a word I’m working on making the choice to live by.
This blog is where I work on embracing the me that ‘aprovechar’ offers. Aprovecho, I say. I will take the full measure of my life to live it the best I can.