❝He who knows he has enough is rich.❞ -fortune cookie
Joseph Heller, the author of the novel Catch-22, is at a party with his friend. The party is hosted by a billionaire at his mansion. When the billionaire appears and starts walking down a spiral staircase, Joseph's friend nudges him - laughing a little bit. He asks Joseph how he feels about the fact that this billionaire made more money yesterday than Catch-22 has made in its entire history.
Without batting an eye, Joseph says that he's fine with it. He even pities the billionaire. Joseph says he has something that the billionaire will never have.
His friend, puzzled by Joseph's answer, asks what he could possibly have that the billionaire doesn't.
Joseph simply replies, "I have the knowledge that I have enough."
As humans, we tend to vastly overestimate how happy we will be once we achieve our goals. In other words, we underestimate how good we are at adapting to our surroundings. This is true both on the upside and the downside. While we are sensitive to changes in our situation, we get used to the absolute levels. For example, lottery winners are thrilled after winning the lottery but eventually revert back to their baseline level of happiness. On the flip side, people who become disabled tend to be very depressed upon learning that they can't use their body the way they once did, but eventually, get used to it and also revert back to their baseline level of happiness. Psychologists call this hedonic adaptation.
In other words, as you strive to be a part of a new group or earn a better lifestyle, you'll feel like you'll be happy once you get there. However, once you're there, you'll start to define a new group to which you want to belong, only to find out that you define an even smaller group.
Imagine you could take a job at a company that offered you $125,000 per year while all of your colleagues made $150,000 per year. Alternatively, you could take a job at a company earning $100,000 per year while all of your colleagues make $75,000 per year. If you are like most people, you will opt for the job where you make more than your colleagues even though you would make less money on an absolute basis.
This is called relative deprivation. It essentially says that we compare ourselves to those who have more than us. This could be more money, status, power, or a higher rank. Combining relative deprivation with hedonic adaptation means we will be on a never-ending quest for more. We'll be chasing more until we get to our graves, never quite getting what we think we want.
The opposite of relative deprivation is gratitude. Instead of looking ahead feeling envious of those who have more than you, you can change your reference point and be proud of how far you've come and how much you do have.
MONEY IS A TOOL
If you end up on a never-ending pursuit of more, you have likely defined money as a goal. However, money is worthless in and of itself. Money is not an end. Money can only be a means to an end.
In other words, money is not a goal; money is a tool. Money is a tool you can use to live a life that you would be happy to look back on as you look back from the end of your life.
VALUES, PURPOSE, AND ENOUGH
The only way to break the endless pursuit of more is to find out how much is enough. You get to define what kind of life you want. This shouldn't be a secret, but you don't have to be the richest person to live a life that you'd be happy to live.
To define the kind of life you want to live, it's important to get in touch with your personal values. What kind of things are important to you? Similarly, what kind of things aren't important to you that feel like they should be important to you? Are there areas where you are adopting societal values even though that's not important to you? What is your money for? Do you know your financial purpose? Remember, you can't take it with you. Money has to be used. What will yours be used for?