Having everything you need, and enjoying everything you have. That is where you want to be.
Like everybody else, I grew up with the belief that more is better, especially when it comes to clothes. Why have two dresses when you can have ten? Or three pairs of shoes when you can have a dozen? It’s always better to have more, because more things meant more choices, and more choices is always a good thing.
Yes, up to a point. I didn’t realise it then, but I could only handle about 5 different choices, and anything more than that paralysed my brain. While staring at my bulging wardrobe, I’d get overwhelmed, and experience the inexplicable female problem of “having nothing to wear!”
In the end, I’d revert to the same three outfits that I’ve been wearing 98% of the time anyway, leaving the rest to rot in the depths of my drawers.
I had the wardrobe of a girl, but the attitude of a guy
When I moved homes, I came face-to-face with my accumulated clothes. They were harmless and benign when stuffed in the wardrobe and out of my way, but when piled on the floor like a miniature mountain, they became a major headache.
Combined with my mother, the only other female in the family, we had hundreds and hundreds of clothing items (I used to half-joke that the only mall I needed to visit was my mother’s walk-in wardrobe). And guess what? Each of those needed to be sorted, cleaned, stored, moved and then unpacked, sorted and hung again.
I spent weeks dealing with that particular task (WEEKS, I tell you!), and I have never been so stressed or used up my time so uselessly. I remember looking around the stacks and stacks of clothes that both my mother and I had forgotten even owning, and thinking to myself: How on earth did we get saddled with so much crap we don’t even need???
It took time, but I finally ended up giving away 90% of all those clothes, and tasted what can only be described as ‘freedom’. The boxes of clothes had loomed large in both my room and my head, and I never realised how oppressive they were until I cleared them out of my life.
I didn’t understand why I felt that way, though. Having more had always been a good thing… when did it become so stressful and annoying?
Let the Fulfilment Curve explain this phenomenon
The Fulfilment Curve is basically a chart, and it tracks the relationship between the money we spend and the happiness or fulfilment we obtain.
Let’s start from the beginning. We all have basic needs that need to be fulfilled. Money means being able to obtain food, clothes and shelter. Thus, each dollar we spend helps us to live through another day. Money and fulfilment go together in an upward, positive slope.
Once our bellies are filled, and we’re warm and protected under a decent roof, we start looking beyond mere survival. Now, more money means more comfort. Better food, nicer clothes, a decent house with cushy mattresses and a functioning car to make our lives a little easier. Money and fulfilment still go together in an upward positive slope.
Once we’re comfortable, we now want to upgrade to next level: luxuries. Gourmet meals, branded clothing, a holiday home, maybe a yacht or two… each extra luxury item brings us a thrill and makes us feel better about ourselves. We are now firm believers of the following:
More money = more fulfilment
Feeling down? Getting bored at work? Something else is missing? No worries, more money will solve that. We’re so entrenched in this belief that we don’t notice that the slope is slowing down and is starting to flatten out.
Once upon a time, getting a new outfit was a big deal. Now, you need to get five outfits to feel that same thrill again. Somehow, the second holiday home isn’t as exciting as the first one - in fact, it’s a bit of a headache because it requires more maintenance, more housekeepers, and more loan payments to manage.
To compensate, you seek even more thrills: each gets more and more expensive, but the thrill keeps wearing off more and more quickly, while the responsibilities of managing all of your possessions keep piling up.
The slope now tips downward - the consultants call this ‘diminishing returns’. It’s not all that fun anymore, and gets even less fun as time goes on.
But we don’t realise this, so we keep spending and spending, hoping to be happier…
“…until one day, we found ourselves sitting, unfulfilled, in our big home on a two and half wooded acres with a three-car garage and expensive exercise equipment in the basement, yearning for the life we had as poor college students who could find joy in a walk in the park.” [Your Money or Your Life].
You learn, finally, that after a certain point: More money ≠ more fulfilment
The Peak Point
Let’s look at the point on the chart before things started going downhill.
That’s the peak of the fulfilment curve, the point where you are receiving maximum fulfilment from the money you spend. We will call this peak point: Enough.
Enough is where you have everything you need, and you enjoy everything you have. Your basic needs are well-met, and each ‘stuff’ you have brings you joy. Nothing is extra or useless or collecting dust or simply another burden you have to pay off.
Enough is where you want to be.
How do I find out what ‘enough’ is for me?
You will get a good sense of your personal 'enough' by tracking your spending and reflecting on how each purchase adds to, or subtracts from, your life.
Hopefully, if you've read my previous article, you are by now making an effort to track your spending. If you had chosen to do your tracking in detail, you would have a list of everything you bought in the last month. Take a look at each item and ask yourself:
Did this thing make me more fulfilled / satisfied / happy?
Given how much Life Energy I gave up for this thing, is it worth it?
Is this purchase in line with my values and life goals? Is it helping me, or slowing me down?
If the answer is positive, put a ‘+’ mark next to the item in the list. If not, put a ‘-’ mark.
Do this often with everything you end up buying, and you will start to gain an understanding of what is good for you and what is not necessary for you. Keep the good, take out the bad, and you will have your ‘enough’.
Hopefully I’ve demonstrated to you that you can identify what ‘Enough’ means to you. It will be different for each of us - what is enough for me may be too little for you, or vice versa. The point is not to compare with other people, but to fully grasp the point at which you have squeezed out the most happiness out of your money, and anything more is just downhill from there.
Knowing where this point is stops you from the mindless rat race of constantly wanting to earn more and more. You now know the amount of wealth to aim for, and once you achieve it, you can be content and focus your efforts beyond just making a living.
While making money can be satisfying and strangely addictive, there is no point to earning money endlessly just for the sake of it (unless money is your ultimate purpose, or you just love working so much, that is).
You may also discover that you already have more than your ‘Enough’! This means you can actually stop working so hard, or at least reduce your working hours and devote some of your Life Energy to other things besides your job.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Tao Te Ching, because we can’t talk about money without using some cliches.
Listen to Tao Te Ching.
Tao Te Ching is smart.
Be like Tao Te Ching.
THINGS FOR YOU TO DO RIGHT NOW:
1. Reread this statement: ‘More money ≠ more fulfilment' and give it some thought. Do you agree or disagree? Depending on your upbringing and your current condition, you may have very different feelings about this.
2. Can you figure out where you currently are on the Fulfilment Curve? Are you in the survival, comfort, luxury or excess zone?
3. Reflect on what you want out of this life, and whether your spending is in line with those aspirations. What does ‘Enough’ mean for you?
4. Because the previous three things were so deep and philosophical, go and have an ice cream. Watch some cartoons. Chill.
NEXT, we'll talk about what to do with your money. If you're not going to blow it on some random thing (like a hot pink Buddha-shaped money box), what else are you supposed to do with it? Grow it, of course.