The Importance of Defining “Enough”

When do you have enough of something?

What is “enough” really?

We tend to define “enough” in terms of money, because we know that we can exchange money for just about anything that we want, except for more time (more on that in a moment).

We want to live in a nice home or drive a decent car and we need money to do those things. Plus we want to have money bank so that are future is secure.

Tim Ferriss makes a good point in “the four hour workweek” when he talks about the process of dreamlining. He makes the point that we all want more money and more free time, but we never necessarily define those alternative activities that we would rather be doing. You hate sitting at your desk at the day job all day long, but what are you really dreaming about? What would you rather be doing, seriously? Have you taken the time define that alternative?

Or do you just use the excuse that our consumerist society has the deck stacked against you and that could never enjoy that level of freedom anyway, so why bother to really define your dreams?

Tim points out that most of us are doing exactly that: we have repressed our dreams because we do not believe that they are realistic. We have accepted our fate as a wage slave, knowing that we have to keep turning the crank of full-time employment in order to keep maintaining our current lifestyle.

Tim is a smart guy and a bit of an over achiever. His method is to expand your income generating ability while ignoring frugality. There are others who have flip this equation to reflect the opposite approach. For example, Jacob Fiskar advocates focusing on frugality rather than increasing income. He cites that it is very difficult for most people to increase their income anyway, but it is very possible for most people dramatically reduce their living expenses. Either path can lead to freedom.

But interestingly, both paths (higher income or lower living expenses) require you to define how much is enough.

Also interesting to me is that both of those philosophies take special care to try to lead the reader to define for themselves how much is really enough. Without knowing this piece of data, one can never really be happy, because they will always believe that they would be happier if they just had a little bit more.

Another friend of mine online, Todd Tressidder, points out that even after achieving financial independence, he did not necessarily get a huge shift in his level of happiness. He realized that he was using his day job as an excuse for why he was unhappy. He knew he had enough money while he was working full time, but he wanted his time freedom back, and believed that this would lead to blissful happiness. He learned that this was not necessarily the case, and that achieving financial freedom and early retirement did not lead to a state of pure bliss, as he once believed that it would.

Again, it is a case of defining how much is truly enough. Bill Gates has a quote that I truly love where he says something to the effect of:

“Don’t get me wrong, it is nice having billions of dollars and all that. But I have to tell you, it is still the same hamburger.”

What a brilliant piece of insight that is! Here I am believing that if I had $1 million that all of my hamburgers that I ate would somehow be fantastic and everything would taste so good. Obviously this is a fantasy. Having unlimited amounts of money does not translate into pure bliss, especially when it comes to eating hamburgers. Now ask yourself a critical question: how much of your life would be unaffected if you had unlimited money? Probably more than you are willing to admit to yourself at this time. Even people who are smarter than you and I fall into this trap all the time. We project our unhappiness on our lack of riches or on a day job that consumes our time. The real problem is much deeper than either of those things, and cannot be solved simply by having more money or more free time.

There is a balancing act between what is reasonable and what is too extreme when it comes to frugality. For example, I am not willing to live in a tent just to save money on rent. On the other hand, I am happy to live in a small apartment that only costs very little ($425/month). I could easily go purchase a house and pay property taxes and spend extra money maintaining the home and spend extra time keeping the home in good shape, but I am not willing to make that investment. It would likely cost me more than renting in a number of different ways that most people never consider.

Today I believe that I have enough. I cannot create additional happiness in my life simply by having more discretionary income. That is a myth that I no longer have to believe. I am happy to do a certain amount of work in order to maintain my lifestyle. Am I willing to do more work than this? No. Am I willing to put in 50 or 60 hours each week in a more stressful full-time position, just so that I can upgrade my housing, my vehicle, my entertainment expenses? No I am not.

In fact, I have already experienced what it is like to work full time, have some additional passive income from a business, and be earning roughly double the income that I have right now. I know what it is like to work twice as many hours and have twice as much discretionary income. I have already experienced that reality. When I was doing that, I yearned to have more free time, and I realized that I could not spend my way to happiness. I had extra money and I was not afraid to spend it on myself, but I realized that doing so was not making me happy.

The next lesson that I learned is that having my free time back after quitting my day job was not necessarily the ticket to eternal bliss either. We all believe that if we have unlimited money and unlimited free time that our happiness will be at its peak. I know today that just having enough money, or free time, or both– is not the solution. Happiness stands outside of this equation. It has nothing to do with our amount of free time or discretionary income. You cannot buy your way to happiness, nor can you “leisure” your way to happiness through excessive free time.

I am grateful that I have had the opportunity in my life to have enough. I have had enough money, and I have had enough free time, and now I know that the real journey does not depend on either of those. Today, I can seek happiness through the projects that I take on and the challenges that I accept. I no longer have to live under the illusion that I would be happy if I just had a little more money, or free time, or both. That is a fantasy that no longer fools me.

What about you? Do you have enough money? Do you have enough free time? Do you think that you would be happier if you had more? Is it possible that you are projecting your unhappiness on to something that is not the true root of the problem?

Have you defined what enough is? Are you waiting until you have enough before you give yourself permission to be happy?

If so, do you realize the insanity of that?