That’s Enough

Jonathan Clements

WE CONSTANTLY STRIVE for more: A bigger paycheck. A loftier job title. A larger home. A more luxurious car. New electronic toys. Higher investment returns.

Make no mistake: There can be great pleasure in this striving—but we may not be so happy with the results. Indeed, on this holiday that celebrates America’s independence, let me put in a plug for a most un-American concept: How about settling for enough—and perhaps even opting for less? Here are three reasons:

1. Pursuing more leaves us running in place. It’s the hedonic treadmill: We’re sure the next pay raise, bigger house and new car will make us happier. But all too quickly, we adapt to these material improvements in our lives, we’re back to feeling dissatisfied and we’re hankering after something else.

2. Possessions become a burden. We don’t just adapt to the bigger house and the new car. We may come to view these possessions as a mixed blessing—and perhaps even regret their purchase—as the car becomes unreliable and as we deal with all the household upkeep. If our goal is long-term happiness, maybe we should look to spend less today, so we have a larger pile of savings—and more financial freedom in the future.

3. Chasing returns leads to less. This is where the pursuit of investment performance parallels the pursuit of happiness. Sometimes, less is more. If we eschew broad market index funds, and instead try for higher returns by picking individual stocks or investing with hotshot money managers, we increase risk—and we’re highly likely to hurt our returns, as the investment costs involved drag down performance.

What’s the alternative to always seeking more? As you flip the burgers on the grill this afternoon or take a swim in the neighbor’s pool, take a moment to be thankful for what you already have and for the good things that lie ahead.

Both gratitude and anticipation can give a big boost to happiness, and neither comes with a price tag. Think about the people in your life, the possessions you own, the savings you’ve amassed and the experiences you’ve enjoyed over the past year, as well all the things you’re looking forward to in the months ahead. Let’s face it, you have a good life—and just pondering that fact can make it even better.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook. His most recent articles include Third Rail and Get Happy. Jonathan’s latest books: From Here to Financial Happiness and How to Think About Money.

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3 years ago

That’s enough” or “enough is enough” may indeed be “enough” for those who are willing to settle for swimming in their neighbor’s pool or for flipping burgers on the grill, but for those of us who would rather be grilling steaks and/or be swimming in OUR OWN POOL, it definitely is NOT enough!

LOL, I’m just kidding, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to poke a little fun at a well written post. But my family did put in an “in ground” swimming pool when I was 12 years old, and it IS awfully nice to have your own quiet, uncrowded and private place to take a dip.

But lest you think my parents were spendthrifts or that we were rolling in dough (neither of which is true), OR that my folks borrowed money without giving it a second thought (which was NOT true in the least bit), the story behind how we came to have a pool is interesting and somewhat illustrative when it comes to making informed choices about how you want to spend your money with an eye on what may bring you and your family true happiness.

My Dad and Mom both worked outside the home for many years, and for much of that time they made do with one car to get them to and from work. Eventually they purchased a second car, and, from then on, as the oldest vehicle got to the sweet spot on time to trade it in for a newer replacement, my parents would discuss it and then my Dad would shop around for the “best deal.” And that’s where our swimming pool comes into the picture.

You may ask “How are a swimming pool and a car related?” Here’s the answer. One year, when Mom’s car was beginning to get some age on it and was ripe for a trade-in, my Dad, being no fool (in that he knew my Mom had always wanted a swimming pool and never imagined she’d be able to afford one) made her a straightforward, but most gentlemanly, proposition. Would his sweetheart prefer to have a new car, or would she rather keep her old car for a few more years and put in a swimming pool instead?

It didn’t take Mom long to make that decision. She opted for the swimming pool, and our family has so many wonderful memories as a result of her making that choice!

Other than their house and cars, it was the biggest “possession” they ever owned, and it ended up being well worth the $4,000 it cost them to put it in. Before you laugh and say it must have been the size of a child’s wading pool, I should tell you that it was modeled after (with the exact same dimensions), and indeed was built by, the professional builder who was putting in the swimming pool for the newest Howard Johnson’s Motel in our city of ~45,000. But it was the mid 60’s, and as a good financial writer like you knows, things cost a whole lot less back then. I don’t know what the rate of inflation for swimming pools is since the sixties, but I’m sure that, in today’s world, you couldn’t install the fencing my parents surrounded the pool with for the $4,000 they spent for the entire job.

All in all I’d have to say that swimming pool was a fantastic investment, if viewed through the lens of how much joy it brought to our family over the years. So, as you deftly pointed out in this Post, it’s not always about the money. “Here endeth the lesson!

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