❝Society tells us the only thing that matters is matter - the only things that count are the things that can be counted.❞ -Laurence G. Boldt
I'm reading an interesting story about a successful author who attends a party given by a billionaire. The story goes that the author, Joseph Heller - author of Catch-22 - was at this party with his friend. The friend wonders how Joe feels that the billionaire made more money yesterday than Catch-22 has made and its entire lifetime. Joe said that he feels fine because he's got something that the billionaire will never have. His friend, puzzled, wonders what he could have that the billionaire doesn't.
Joe says, "I have the knowledge that I have enough.”
I'm fascinated by the story because it's more profound to me than it seems on the surface. It tells me that Joe Heller was ahead of his time. Joe knew how much was enough and was comfortable and confident with that. The rest of society wants to be the billionaire. They want to gain more and more, hoping that it will eventually make them happy.
But I've come to realize that the Joe Hellers of the world are happier than the rest of us. The question becomes, how can we become more like Joe Heller?
Without consideration, our default mode is to pursue things and stuff. It's our default mode because it's so easy. We know exactly how it feels to experience financial stress, but we don't know how it feels for other people because money is a taboo topic that we don't talk about. It's easy for us to look around and see other people acting happy, and so we replicate what they are doing. From the outside looking in, it looks like they are happy because they have more stuff than we do or have better stuff than we do.
So we naturally believe that the secret to happiness is to seek out and acquire more, better, and bigger things. The problem is that as we work hard to collect more and more things, we don't find the happiness we were expecting.
Instead of focusing on happiness as our beacon, we tend to focus on the collection of stuff. This is because money is an easy measuring stick. It shouldn't be that way, but that's how it is.
It is a helpful exercise to occasionally pause and ask yourself why you are spending your money the way you are. Be honest with yourself. Are you spending money to raise your social standing so you can get a boost of dopamine? Or are you spending your money in a way that will make your life easier and happier?
There are a couple of terms worth mentioning here, conspicuous spending and inconspicuous spending.
Conspicuous spending is spending in a way that other people will notice. This is not necessarily to say that the reason we spend our money is to get the attention of other people, but it is a byproduct of that. For example, most of us in the United States need a car, so we buy ourselves a car. That is an example of conspicuous spending because, regardless of why we bought it, people will notice that we bought a car. Conspicuous spending becomes problematic when most of our spending is for external reasons. Instead of buying a car for a reasonable price that will get us from point A to point B, we buy (or lease) expensive cars to impress other people. Conspicuous spending, in the end, is not a source of happiness.
Inconspicuous spending is spending money in a way that nobody will notice. Again, this is not necessarily the case that you were trying to hide your spending from anybody, just that these types of purchases aren't noticeable. For example, you go to the grocery store and buy dinner. What you create for dinner in your kitchen is not something other people will see (unless, of course, you posted on social media). When done correctly, inconspicuous spending can make your life easier and bring you a sense of happiness and peace.
Inconspicuous spending is better for your happiness, but conspicuous spending increases your social status. This drive to partake in status signaling happens almost automatically, but it's a habit worth trying to get rid of.