“If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth,” said David Foster Wallace in one of the greatest commencement speeches of all time. But what exactly is enough? And why do so few of us believe we have it?
If you make more than $50k annually, statistically speaking, you’re in the top 1% of the world. Yet people who make $50k rarely feel like one-percenters. Most of them would argue that they don’t have enough.
What if your salary is an order of magnitude higher? Most of us would agree that a $500k salary would be enough. But what if it came as a professional athlete? Now you’re making league minimum on a team full of $10 million salaries. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like enough.
It’s frustrating to read about rich people who say they don’t feel rich. Their Manhattan penthouse just isn’t nice enough. Their Gulfstream is last year’s model. I know. Cry me a river.
But it’s all relative. Someone else could say the same thing about any one of us. If you’re reading this, you’re financially better off than the vast majority of the world. There are many others who would happily consider your wealth to be more than enough.
Except we don’t compare ourselves to them. We compare ourselves to those who have more. Even though it’s making us all miserable.
When will you have enough?
“If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.” — Vicki Robin
If you’re walking through an airplane to a coach seat, do you wish that you were sitting in first class? Or are you just grateful you’re able to fly at all?
Growing up, my family didn’t fly. We’d load into the family van and drive for our vacations. Entertainment was looking out the window for extended hours at a time.
Maybe I’ve blocked out those memories. But whenever I find my seat on the plane, I’m not grateful to simply be flying. Instead, I compare myself to those in first class. It may only last a moment until I claim the shared armrest and work on ignoring the guy sitting next to me, but it’s there.
We’re programmed to compare ourselves to those who have more. In some ways this is a good thing. It’s motivating. It can push us to achieve more and close that gap. But it also makes us feel like crap.
Most of our online distractions don’t make this any easier. We’re inundated with stories of rich and famous people. We hear all about their success tips. Somehow, I doubt that adopting Jeff Bezos’s morning routine will result in a billion dollars finding its way into your bank account, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
It’s good to want to improve. It’s important that we have goals and aspirations that push us to be better. But it shouldn’t need to end with us swimming in Scrooge McDuck’s vault. At some point, we need to get off the hedonistic treadmill.
I know, easier said than done. But it all starts with figuring out what enough means to each of us. And every one of us has that ability right now.
Remember that money is a means to an end
“Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become; and the same is true for fame.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
Our problems begin when we forget this. Once we start seeing money as the end itself, no amount is ever enough. If your goal in life is to have as much money as possible, it’s difficult to picture a future where you’re content and have enough.
Money is nothing but a means to an end. Its only value is in what we can do with it.
What that is doesn’t matter. Yes, it does to you. But there’s no right or wrong answer. All that matters is that you know what you want.
Maybe it means you can travel the world. Or maybe it means that you have the freedom to follow a career you enjoy instead of one that merely pays the bills. Figure that out. Know that end. As Benjamin Franklin said,
“Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”
Recognize your status purchases
“Americanism: Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.” — Robert Quillen
When I was growing up, my parents made me wear McGregor sneakers while all of my friends wore Nikes and Reeboks. Their explanation of, “they’re essentially the same sneaker,” was not helpful.
I could tell you to avoid making status purchases. But that would make me a hypocrite. No one should go broke trying to keep up with the Joneses, but that doesn’t mean we can’t treat ourselves to something we enjoy simply because it’s a status purchase.
If you want to make a status purchase because it makes you happy, then do it. Just make sure you know why you’re buying it. Acknowledge that choice.
If it will make you happy, then good. Enjoy it. If you’re trying to look good for that neighbor you don’t really like anyways, then maybe rethink things.
Don’t race, wander
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” — Joseph Campbell
A major downside of comparing yourself to others is that it makes you impatient. It drives a life hack mindset and non-stop hustle culture that keeps people out of the present.
If you feel as though you need to beat others in a race or worry that your peers are ahead of you, you’re less open to risk. You’re less willing to chase a new opportunity that doesn’t offer a clear return. In a world where we tend to grow by testing ourselves and failing, few things are more corrosive to long-term achievement.
The goal is to connect with your own self. Create these moments of adversity. Test yourself against your own standards. It’s the best way to find out who you really are. And what you really want.
Ignore all advertisements
“I do love having new clothes…but old clothes are beastly… We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending, ending is better…” — Soft voice of the sleep teacher indoctrinating the young in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
Marketers are not your friends. Know this and remember it.
Recognize the value in what’s all around you
“That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” — Henry David Thoreau
Take a walk outside. Put down your phone and notice things. You’ll open yourself up to a brand new experience.
Sit quietly with yourself for a little while. I’m not sure why people need to pay thousands of dollars to go on silent retreats when they could just keep their mouth shut in their own daily life.
Walking the dog, playing with my kids, relaxing with friends and family don’t cost a lot, if anything. Most of us would rather have an in-depth conversation with someone we care about than go out to a show. We’d rather eat good pizza than caviar. It’s a cliché because it’s true — those things we value more tend to cost the least.
Do what gives you meaning
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” — Henry David Thoreau
Most of us don’t want to spend all day relaxing on a beach, getting drunk on overpriced cocktails. It might be fun for a few days, but after that, it would get old.
At the end of the day, we want to do something meaningful. We want to be able to look at our lives and feel as though we’ve accomplished something. We want to look at our legacy and believe the world’s a better place based on our contribution.
This doesn’t need to be your job and it doesn’t need to be your passion. But we all have something that gives us meaning. And no amount of money is going to change it.
Recognize the value of your time
“They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.” — Kahlil Gibran
Everyone’s heard the phrase time is money and I suppose it’s true. But of the two, time is the inelastic quality. We all have a finite amount and with each passing year, we value our limited supply even more.
Christopher Carmichael once posed the question, “You are 99 years old, you are on your deathbed, and you have the chance to come back to right now: what would you do?”
Would you spend it chasing more money? Or would you find something better to do with your time?
Or consider another question from Muneeb Ali, “When I’m old, how much would I be willing to pay to travel back in time and relive the moment that I’m experiencing right now?”
If the moment is me playing with my kids, helping my son learn to read, or rocking my daughter to sleep, it’s difficult to thing of a price I wouldn’t pay at age 80 to relive those moments. It helps put today’s time in perspective instead of getting lost chasing something far less meaningful.
Know when you have enough
“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” — Seneca
So what is enough? There’s no right or wrong answer. The important thing is just having one.
We like to say that money doesn’t matter. Yet it does. Ask anyone who doesn’t have enough and you’ll clearly see that yes, money does matter.
It matters as a means to an end. It matters to make sure we can take care of those we care about. It matters so that we can live the life we want to live. After that, it’s just a distraction.