“What do we want?” More!
“When do we want it?” Now!
Bigger, better, faster, cleaner… more.
If there is a thing we like having… then the human in us wants more of that thing. It’s inevitable.
How many times have you had the following thoughts?
- I have a big house, but it could be bigger.
- That was an excellent vacation, but it could have been better.
- I like this car, but it could be faster.
- I have a 50 inch TV, but I’d like an 80 inch one.
- I want a different partner, someone who is nicer to me.
- Of course, I’d like a bigger paycheck.
- I wish my phone had faster WiFi.
- I had great returns last year, but they could’ve been higher.
- I wish my camera had more megapixels.
- 240 miles on a charge is fine, but I’d really like 350.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking these thoughts. Some of them may even be beneficial. But, have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you want these things? Have you wondered why you want anything?
Aristotle enshrined “Happiness” as the ultimate purpose of human existence. Our very own Declaration of Independence hallowed the “pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable right of humankind.
In our culture, the pursuit of happiness has become the pursuit of more. And we can always strive for even more, making the happiness we pursue forever just beyond our reach
We believe that more will make us happy. But let me ask you… do you have more now than you did? Shouldn’t you be happy then? Did you forget that what you have now is what you wanted before? Or do you think you don’t have enough “more” just yet?
If You Want More, You’ll Never Have Enough
Have you ever heard of the hedonic adaptation? It’s a simple idea. As humans, it’s in our nature to return to a stable level of happiness despite the good and bad things that happen in our lives.
Here’s an example of hedonic adaptation at work.
Let’s say you’ve been searching for a new job for months. After several interviews, you finally get the call you’ve been waiting for. You’ve landed your dream job and it pays 30% more than your last one. Wow, you’re ecstatic! You think about how much more secure you’ll feel with that salary bump. For a few weeks (maybe even a few months), life is pure bliss.
But, you begin to settle into your new routine. You learn the ropes and start nitpicking different aspects you don’t like about your new gig. You’re no longer on Cloud 9 like you used to be. In fact, part of you wishes your salary was a little higher.
Humans adapt. Good things never really stay that good for long, and neither do the bad. Negative events don’t change your baseline happiness much. Neither do good events.
Could Striving Be The Problem?
In many cases, striving itself can be the problem – this is especially true when you’re striving for more or better things.
When you get a faster car, you enjoy the additional speed for a moment. But, you very quickly begin to notice there are other even faster cars out there.
Your momentary happiness fades and your baseline happiness re-asserts itself. When this happens, you may regret buying the car and view it as a wasted resource. Or, you may think you didn’t go big enough and wish you would’ve sprung for a faster one.
Striving can also be a problem in the pursuit of higher investment returns.
As you strive for outperformance, you take action to select better investments and improve your market timing. You have good intentions, but you forget that price and value are inversely correlated. You forget that “reversion to the mean” is a powerful financial force. You chase returns when you see them being enjoyed by others away from you.
These actions lead to higher costs, higher taxes, and – in most instances – lower performance. You may never even notice that it was the striving for outperformance in the immediate term that led to underperformance over the long-term. But remember, market timing is impossible.
The Bottom Line
Satisficing, a combo of satisfy and suffice, is a decision-making strategy that takes the focus off of more. It asks the questions:
- How much is enough?
- What will satisfy the need?
- What will suffice?
You can always strive for a bigger house, a faster car, and higher investment returns; but, check your intentions. Are you striving because you don’t currently have enough? Or are you striving because you are human and humans seek bigger, better, and faster things?
One antidote to striving is gratitude. Think about your life and take note of the lessons you’ve learned, people you know, and things you’ve acquired and appreciate how lucky you are to learn, know, and have. By noticing one authentic gratitude, you’ll begin to see opportunities for more gratitude in all areas of your life – even your financial one.
Aristotle never intended the happiness of immediate pleasure to be the target of human life. Happiness wasn’t a subjective state of mind; it wasn’t a feeling. For him, Happiness was the end result of a life well lived. He would say that you lived a happy life if you lived up to your potential, if you were a good (virtuous) person, and if you pursued excellence.
What, precisely, are you striving for?
You have to stay aware of your “why” if you want to make progress toward your financial goals. It’s okay to strive for things as long as those things take you one step closer to real happiness. In a world of finite resources, you have to make sacrifices to get what you truly want.
Like what you read? Check out some of our other mindful money topics: