As With Buffets, So With Life

Peter's picture

Knowing when to stop eating at an "All You Can Eat" buffet can make the difference between going home with a satisfied belly and going home with a belly that aches. It is easy to feel that we need to get more for less but sometimes it's best to stop when you've got enough -- even though there is more to be had. In a society that evaluates success based on comparisons with others, like the Joneses, it is easy to see that success is not only a moving target but an ever retreating one as well. Once you realize that you've already got enough you can live a happier life with a lot less effort. So put the plate down, ask for the bill and see why the Joneses have got it all wrong.

But Mom, Jimmy's Got One!

It all starts with our quest for a happy existence. Most of us want to be happy. The problem is we look for it in the wrong places. We look for it in "stuff," in the things that we buy. And we compare our stuff to our neighbors' stuff. If we see our stuff is "better" we feel good at how well we are doing and if our stuff is older or less fancy we feel worse about our "accomplishments." This climate of comparison inevitably leads to let down. Only 10% of people can be in the top 10% leaving 90% of us feeling left out. And with everyone trying to get to the top it won't be long before your latest effort to get ahead leaves you right back where you started. So learn to be happy with enough.

How Will I Know When I've Arrived?

There is no formula for figuring out what is "enough" for you but there are some guides. Studies have shown (or at least indicated) that once you've moved from below to above the poverty line more money does little to improve happiness. Once our basic needs are met almost everything else is a luxury. The problem with luxuries is that they can often look a lot like necessities. A lot of people think that they need a TV but most of us would survive without one. How about a dishwasher? An iPod? A cellphone? In the not too distant past, these things were all very much luxuries and people at the time would probably tend to agree they were luxuries. These days a lot of people consider them requirements to daily life. One way to help you find hidden luxuries is to assess whether or not you'll actually use them. So you can start by evaluating your needs and trying to root out some of the luxuries hiding in there.

If you strip out many of the luxuries you'll find that you can get by on a lot less money each month. If you can try to avoid comparing your status with others you can end up being a lot happier on a lot less. So for less effort you can be a lot happier -- sounds good doesn't it?

Varying Degrees

Before you start thinking that I'm suggesting that everyone should live a life of deprivation let me say this: I'm not. Everyone is different and has a different outlook on life and on what makes them happy. All that I'm suggesting is that you can often end up being a lot more content settling for "enough" rather than struggling for more. Maybe you think I'm sounding like a defeatist: if you might fail why bother trying. Again, I'm not saying don't try. Definitely try. Just feel free to set your own standard for success and don't get caught in the never ending rat race.

It's up to you to decide what is "enough" for you and it might take a while to figure that out for yourself. A good first step would be to start thinking about it. Then a better second step would be to do without something that you once thought was a necessity which was actually a luxury. Just because everyone else is getting up for seconds or thirds doesn't mean you should too.

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