WE STRIVE constantly 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.