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The secret of life is to know when enough is enough.

This was my father's favorite saying in his final years, and one of the last thing he said to me before he died. I was contemplating selling my house and moving to a smaller one, and that was his pronouncement on the subject.

It was kind of ironic, since there he was, a family doctor for forty years, gasping and wheezing over the phone, barely able to speak, dying from smoking too much.

But the fact that he learned the lesson late doesn't negate the truth. And it goes straight to the heart of the issue of gratitude; namely, that gratitude makes us feel like we have enough, whereas ingratitude leaves us in a state of deprivation in which we are always looking for something else.

That's why the idea of cultivating "the gratitude attitude" is so popular among twelve-step programs. As Emmet Miller notes in "Gratitude: A Way of Life".

"Gratitude has to do with feeling full, complete, adequate - we have everything we need and deserve; we approach the world with a sense of value."

Addictions of all sorts come from a sense of deprivation, a feeling of lack that the user believes can be filled with a substance or activity, whether it's drugs, shopping, alcohol or food.

Caught up in lack, we feed the need but never feel truly satisfied because our substance of choice can't fill the lack. Consequently we continue to want more and more.

As many people have pointed out, our consumer society owes its very existence to its ability to fuel a sense of never being satisfied.

If we were happy about the way we looked, for example, why would we spend billions on cosmetics and plastic surgery?

Or on expensive cars that supposedly convey a certain image that we don't have?

An attitude of gratitude gets us off the treadmill and out of the rat race. As we cultivate a true and deep appreciation for what we do have, we realize that our sense of lack is, for the most part, an illusion. No matter our material circumstances, the richness of our soul is ultimately what brings happiness, not another Martini, bigger assets, or the latest video game.

In the words of Lao Tzu, "He who knows enough is enough will always have enough."

Dr. Vincent Ryan