“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
Have you ever thought about how much money do you really need to be truly happy? Have you ever taken the time to put a dollar amount on it based on a carefully planned budget that covers all of your living expenses and leaves some left over for the occasional evening out and perhaps one nice vacation a year? Most haven’t.
If you were to conduct a random poll where you asked a few dozen people how much money they need to achieve true happiness, nearly all of them would give you an amount that is more than they currently make. How much do these people need to achieve happiness?
A little more.
But here’s the problem: It’s always going to be a little more if you don’t have an understanding of what it truly means to be wealthy. It’s always going to be a little more if you are never content with what you already have.
If you take someone who earns $50k a year and double his salary, it is unlikely he will be content with his new earnings for long.
Perhaps he’ll feel some degree of happiness for a period of time, but it will be short-lived. That’s because he will most likely increase his spending. He’ll buy more stuff. Whereas before he might have been satisfied with a used budget sedan, he might now set his sights on a brand new luxury vehicle.
“I can afford it,” he thinks. “I’ve worked hard for it, and I deserve it.”
This becomes a problem when he ends up spending much more money than is necessary on a car that goes down in value as each year passes. The temporary high obtained from buying such a vehicle quickly fades. And then he feels envy again when someone passes with an even more expensive vehicle or a newer model.
Where’s the satisfaction in that? How does one get off of this merry go round?
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Why do so many buy more house than they need or can afford? Why do so many buy expensive vehicles to get them where they need to go?
For most, it’s about keeping up with the Joneses. It’s an image thing. It’s about trying to look wealthy so your neighbors will envy you.
Why do so many care so much about what other people think about them? Why are so many willing to work so hard or go deep in debt to buy expensive things to portray a certain image when most in their communities don’t even know who they are or even care?
Who are these Joneses and why should anyone bother keeping up with them? If more knew what true wealth really is, they wouldn’t have to work anywhere near as hard to be happy.
What Is True Wealth?
Being truly wealthy has nothing to do with how much money you have in your bank account, how big a house you live in, or what kind of car you drive.
True wealth involves learning to be content with what you have and not being envious of others. It does not involve having expensive things, but in having few wants.
This is something that took me many years to learn. Now, whenever I see someone driving down the road in a fancy car, I am no longer impressed. My first thought is to wonder why anyone would waste so much money on a car.
I have the same reaction when I drive through a neighborhood of McMansions. I’m not impressed. Most who live in those cookie-cutter mansions don’t own their homes outright. They are often in debt up to their eyeballs. They are joint owners of their homes with their banks. They are servants to their lending institutions, slaves to their monthly mortgage payments.
True wealth means being free from all of that. It means not being envious of other people’s possessions and not caring about impressing others with your lifestyle. It means being free from debt and not stressing over the possibility of missing a payment on something. True wealth is achieved when you realize that less is more.
More Stuff or More Time?
If you had a choice between accumulating more stuff or having more time to do the things in life you enjoy, which would you choose? Which option would make you happier?
Most people derive far more happiness from having extra time to enjoy life than from accumulating material possessions. The purchase of a new car can give a person a temporary high, but it usually doesn’t last very long.
Being able to go on a relaxing fishing trip, a hike through the woods, or even spending time reading a good book, in contrast, provides benefits that can be long-lasting. Taking time to do things you enjoy helps reduce stress and anxiety, lowers your blood pressure, and makes you healthier and happier.
A few years ago I took a trip to the Amazon Jungle and stayed at a retreat there. I can’t even begin to describe what an amazing experience it was. Many of the things I saw and experienced are things that most only read about or see on television or in the movies. After all these years, I still think about that trip often. No material possession has ever given me anywhere near as much happiness as that one vacation did.
Having time to do things we enjoy and having experiences, therefore, are far more valuable than the accumulation of material possessions. The benefits last much, much longer.
The Amount of Money You Actually Need
The amount of money you actually need in life to achieve true happiness is the amount that lets you live a life that is free of debt. And the key to achieving that is learning to be content with living a modest life.
Having time to do the things in life you enjoy will bring far more happiness than living in a big house or driving a fancy car while you are drowning in debt.
The Joneses won’t mind, I promise.