Having Enough

“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender …”

“Owe no man anything …”

I reflected on these words of Solomon and Saint Paul, while tossing into my recycling bin the tenth solicitation I have received this year to subscribe for yet one more generous and (temporarily) low cost line of credit. Indeed, I was somewhat miffed that this last one only offered me a credit limit of $7,500. Most of them value me at a good $10,000—though this one did also tempt me with a reward of 5,000 free Air Miles, in case I needed them!

Why should we think that more money brings more happiness? Very few lottery winners have found that to be true. In their excellent book on money management, Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin quote a survey that shows how, when people evaluated their happiness level on a scale of one (uncomfortable, tired, frustrated, insecure) to five (joyous, enthusiastic, fruitful, making a difference), happiness for those earning zero to $1,000 per month was only slightly less than that of those earning $3,000 to $4,000, and was actually higher than those earning more than that amount.

Why is this? A number of reasons. More income requires more effort and more responsibility—more time and energy expended in earning the higher amount. It involves an increase in social status, and all the costs in clothing, child care, eating out, second cars, cottage at the lake, club memberships, and other status symbols that those with lower incomes do without. And of course, more badgering from those, charitable or otherwise, who would like us to share a modicum of our wealth with them.

Dominguez points out that there is a point, which we can call ‘enough’, where we can achieve the maximum of satisfaction for the amount of our life energy we are prepared to spend acquiring money. In his case, it is as low as $6,000 per year. He suggests a number of ways in which we can learn to live a ‘frugal’ life (‘frugal’ from the Latin ‘fruor’: I enjoy). We can record our spending by categories, and assess whether each category gives us as much satisfaction as it costs us in time and energy to acquire. We can learn to shop cheaply and not on impulse, but also to get the best rewards for the employment we undertake. We can save and invest, so that not only do we bring our debts under control: in the end we come to a point where our earnings from our savings are sufficient to free us from the need ever again to work in the nine-to-five rat race. We can throw up our jobs, and volunteer to spend all our time at our own expense on the things that really matter to us in life.

How difficult is all of this? Chiefly, it seems to be a matter of discipline—having the courage to see where our monies—and therefore the limited hours of our lives—are actually being spent. Then evaluating and acting on what we find, permitting us to get a life that really reflects the direction in which we want to go.

It means the ‘tuning out’ of the million conscious and subconscious messages that swamp us every day, from advertisers and salespersons who would like us to do anything rather than live a lifestyle that does not involve buying their product.

And if too many people adopt Dominguez’s recipe, it means that we will wreck the western world’s consumption-based, full employment economy—but likely also make it possible for the world’s ecology to have a sporting chance to survive.

After all, if having ‘more’ makes us more unhappy, why should we not make the experiment of learning how to get satisfaction from having ‘enough’?

– Anglican Messenger, November 2011