Money is Binary: Enough or Not Enough

I caught this post on Huffington Post: Who’s Happy And Why?

One thing that struck me immediately was this, a quote from that story:

For example, studies by Dr. Ruut Veenhoven, a sociologist at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, show that the extremely poor — those earning less than $10,000 a year — may be rendered unhappy by the relentless stress of poverty. Yet his work shows that after a poor person’s income exceeds that level there is no further correlation between money and happiness. After a certain level of income, typically enough to meet basic expenses, money ceases to be a factor.

What I like about this, particularly, is an idea I think I heard first from my older brother. “For me,” he said, “money has always been a binary thing. Enough or not enough.” I like that. I think it applies to me, and my life. For most of our life, we didn’t have enough. Finally, after the company made it, we did have enough.

“Enough” is a relative concept, of course. And it evolves. In my case, for years, when we lived in Mexico City and the first three kids had been born but were still young, we used to take walks when we could and dream together. Our most common dream was “having a down payment to buy our own house.”

A few years later, it was to buy a house in Palo Alto; to move out of San Jose. And then it was a house big enough for a growing family, two parents and five kids. And it became private high school and then college educations, five of them, all very expensive. “Enough” evolved.

The example of cars. Being able to buy a 1975 Rambler station wagon was huge, when that happened. But we survived the old orange-yellow VW van and going up the Sierra highways in second gear, which made the Toyota Corolla station wagon a big deal when we were able to get that. Later, it was never a Mercedes or Porsche, but having a relatively new car, and especially one with 4WD, mattered.

Vacations were fine when they were camping in Camomila, or outside of San Miguel de Allende. And one of the best vacations ever was in Acapulco where we thought we’d been invited to a luxury place (journalist perks) but ended up in Las Hamacas instead. Tour guiding worked fine. We had some really nice vacations later, when there was “enough;” but we didn’t really miss them when we couldn’t afford them.

I liked this, from the same post:

Some years ago I was helping Jimmy Carter gather his thoughts for his book Virtues of Aging, and at one point I said to him, “President Carter, I have a crazy question for you. I’m about the age now that you were when you were president. Have you come to any new perspectives about what matters in life, now that you’re older?” His answer was to the point: “Earlier in my life I thought the things that mattered were the things that you could see, like your car, your house, your wealth, your property, your office. But as I’ve grown older I’ve become convinced that the things that matter most are the things that you can’t see — the love you share with others, your inner purpose, your comfort with who you are.”

So here’s the thing. At the end of the day, it may be wisest to judge each of our own life successes not from the outside looking in but from the inside out. It’s not about the material things I can show the world, but about how I feel about the work I do; it’s about the relationships I have and the love I share.

Ken Dychtwald Ph.D.: Who’s Happy And Why?


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