How Much Is Enough?

This time of year is focused on giving thanks and counting our blessings. In this country, especially, it seems appropriate to reflect every now and again on the abundance we enjoy.


The simple conveniences we take for granted would bring tears of joy to many people in this world. Clean water, home heating and cooling, in-door plumbing, and access to medical care – a shocking number of people still do not have these luxuries that we take for granted every minute of every day.


We have so much, and yet we often want more. So how much is enough?


That’s a difficult question to answer. First, it requires us to separate needs from wants. Distinguishing between the two can be surprisingly difficult. Food is a need. Ribeye steak is a food. But as much as I would like it to be, ribeye steak is not a need. It clearly falls in the want category. But what about a microwave? Or a bed? Are those needs or wants?


Even once we overcome the needs-versus-wants clarification, we are left with another question. How many wants are considered enough? Meeting the bare necessities of life is a great first step to determine how much is enough, especially considering millions of people today still do not meet that minimum threshold. But presumably, having enough allows for a least some luxuries above and beyond our basic needs.


Here’s the thing. The trouble with wants is that they are relative.


The size of our wants are proportional to the size of our income and assets. In the finance community, we call that lifestyle creep. As our income and assets grow, so do the things we would like to have.


Take vacations, for instance. Straight out of high school, jumping into a car and visiting the mountains or a beach may have been your idea of great vacation – along with sleeping with four or five of your closest friends. As we grow older and wealthier, perhaps a vacation involves a flight or a cruise (and not in your car!) and your own hotel room. Or maybe a vacation entails traveling to another country and renting a car. Our expectations grow with our wealth.


One sure way to riches is to maintain your former lifestyle as your income and assets increase. But that is not easy. Why? Because wants are relative, and we tend to compare ourselves to others. If your next-door neighbor goes on a vacation or buys a new car, you form a desire – recognized or not – to do something similar.


So, if comparing our lot in life to others is something we are hard-wired to do, perhaps a work-around is choosing to whom we compare ourselves. Instead of our next-door neighbor, what if we compared ourselves to someone who lived 100 years ago?


Think about it. The richest person in the United States in 1919 lived far worse than the average person in 2019. They had no television. No Internet. No smartphone. They could not get fresh food out of season. Their medical care would be considered barbaric by today’s measures.


We have it so good, even if we do not realize it.


Research has proven that higher incomes lead to greater happiness, but only to a point. Beyond roughly $65,000 in income, the research shows, Americans do not gain much additional happiness out of life. That is per person. So for a couple, that would be $130,000 of income.


I’m sure the geeky researchers crunched the numbers correctly, but I have plenty of real-world examples that prove otherwise.


I have seen couples who earn far less than $130,000 who were some of the happiest, most content people on this planet. And I have seen individuals who make two times that amount who are utterly miserable.


In the end, I’m not sure we can say for certain how much is enough. One thing is certain, though. Those who have a mindset of gratitude – no matter how much they make or have – get more out of life than those who constantly yearn for more.


This year, no matter how much or how little it may feel you have, give thanks. Count your blessings. In the end, that mindset is worth more than all the money in the world.

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