How much is enough to live the life that will truly bring me happiness and fulfillment?

I wrote this article in two parts whilst on a bus traveling in Montenegro. The topic was inspired by a conversation i had with an old work colleague and good friend Luke! Whilst i had a fairly good idea of what i wanted to write about, it was only until we were walking along the esplanade in a small city called Budva, filled with wealthy holidaymakers from all over the world, that it became more apparent! There i saw a young couple, both in their mid thirties, sharing a bottle of wine at an expensive looking restaurant. I could see that they had shared what must have been an amazing seafood spread. She wore extravagant jewelery and they were both clad in designer clothing. No doubt they would retire to a really nice hotel that night as well. The most apparent thing about them though was that they were just sitting in silence. It didn’t look like they had much to say to each other, and frankly despite the beautiful setting it didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves at all!

Compare this with a group of three Kosovans that we had spent the previous two days with. They were much younger, and obviously didn’t have the same amount of wealth behind them. They told us stories about how they tried to hitch hike all the way here, and they carried tents and cuttlery in their backpacks. Food for them was as simple and cheap as possible – bread, pasta, rice, and their local capsicum relish. We made particularly good friends with a guy we called Advi, whom explained how he is deeply involved in a community called couch surfing. He often hosts people for free at his place, and he is sharing a bedroom with his brother! I can guarantee you that they were having the time of their lives, and they were experiencing some really exciting and unique things. They were meeting new people and really immersing themselves in the culture of the cities they visited. They would eat and drink with their host families, and often become good friends well after.

I guess it just started raising some questions about my own life, and this is what i came up with! I have not necessarily come to any conclusions, but at least i have started thinking about them!

How much is enough to live the life that will truly bring me happiness and fulfillment?

After travelling for the last three and a half months you will understand that a person’s point of view on this wicky wacky world we live in starts to change. What may have appeared important to me before has been put into perspective and i have learnt to appreciate new things. I find myself questioning what i really want in life. Is it a successful career? Is it to find something i really enjoy, and live a more fulfilling and humble life? Is it to travel the world and live every moment as if it were my last? Which of these will bring me happiness? Can i have all of this?

Before i analyse the pros and cons of each, i am going to take things a step further and question the purpose of going to work everyday. I think most people can agree that at least once in their lives they have been guilty of falling into what i call the ‘rat race’. This is a really amusing quote i read recently:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job that you need to pay for the work clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so that you can afford to live in it!”

Ellen Goodman

I hope that i never find myself in such a situation, and if i do – i hope that i snap out of it as quickly as possible and realise that i always have a choice!

If i were to ask most people why they go to work, i’m sure they would look at me rather dumbfoundedly and i would be likely to get a range of sarcastic comments. The obvious answer is that you go to work to earn money. You need this money to buy food, clothes, and shelter – and anything left over from that is usually spent on something that will bring you some form of enjoyment or satisfaction; be it a chocolate bar, a holiday, or a new car.

If you are not putting away any money before you go and spend it on the above, i can almost guarantee you that the cycle will just start again and you are going to be working for the rest of your life!

This leads to my first dilemma. I don’t want to be working for the rest of my life, therefore I need to be saving (or creating money in terms of owning investments) as much as i possibly can. There are exceptions to this, but I would imagine that in order to save or create a lot of savings, most people would achieve this through having a good job/business and being successful within it. Whatever the scenario, unless you win the lotto you will be investing a lot of your time into achieving this freedom.

So lets assume that i make the decision to really knuckle down and invest the time into my career. I might work 50 to 60 hours a week and grow from strength to strength, steadily increasing my income and hopefully in turn – my savings. If i am lucky i will find myself at the age of 50 with enough money to retire, and the time to finally enjoy the fruits of my labour. But at what cost?

I know that if i don’t save a lot of money, i will be working possibly until the day i die. I also know that if i work hard all my life it is likely that i will only have enough money to retire by the age of 60.. 50 if i am the exception. I know that if i have a successful career, i will get a lot of satisfaction out of that. But will it be fulfilling? And finally, what am i going to do with all of this money? Travel?

I will quickly side-track to a very simple and interesting theory that i remember reading about at university. It is called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which essentially tries to diagnose the succession of a person’s needs throughout their lifetime.

The first need is food, clothing and shelter. If we don’t have any of these, i can guarantee that nothing i have mentioned in this article will be of any concern to you! Once we have these basic needs though, we start to look for meaningful relationships. We seek affirmation from our peers, look to build friendships or perhaps even love.

Some people find it more difficult to tick this box than others, and will often live their lives in search of these relationships or the affirmation of others. However if you find yourself with everything you need to live, with some great friends and family – the next natural progression is to look to achieve. As a general rule people will look for success and be really proud of something they have done. They may want to be an expert in their field or create a legacy for themselves. Again, most will spend their lives juggling their relationships and trying to achieve this for themselves.

Finally, the few that seem to have it all will move on to a more philanthropic mindset. They realise that all the excess wealth and success they have created does not necessarily bring them happiness, and they look toward helping others and giving back. They become fulfilled by helping others!

Now this is obviously not a science, but i would argue that most people could slot themselves into a life stage here quite easily!

Now lets backtrack to the scenario where i am 50 years old and finally have enough wealth to support myself into perpetuity. What am i going to do? By now i have much more responsibility. I might have a wife, a few kids, a business, a dog? I now have the freedom to “live my life” but to an extent, my life has already been lived. I have already spent 30+ years in the rat race, and we all know that it is incredibly hard to break a bad habit!

Lastly, lets compare the idea of getting satisfaction from traveling (thus spending a vast amount of your time and money) vs buying a nice car, a nice house, nice furniture of the latest “whizz bang gadgets” as my mate Luke would describe them! But instead of comparing it on an absolute monetary scale, lets use a happiness scale.

If i travel, i have an amazing experience. I learn about other cultures, i gain perspective on life, i make new friends, I am introduced to things and opportunities that i would never otherwise consider unless i was abroad and out of my “normal life”. 5 years later, i am still in contact with those friends that i made. I have interesting stories to tell, and i can relate to others that have enjoyed similar amazing experiences. As a person, I am more giving, tolerant, understanding… the list goes on. I will remember those times for the rest of my life and the return i get on travelling is not only immeasurable, but lasts into perpetuity (or until we get alzheimers). How often do we hear our parents or grandparents speak about the time of their lives they had when they went travelling in their 20’s? It was the time of their lives, and is something that will stay with them forever.

In contrast, I buy a new iphone. I have an excellent high definition screen with a top notch camera, internet browsing capabilities and a 30% increase in battery life compared to the previous version. A year later, i crack the screen and it costs me another $200 to fix and two years later i trade it in for the iphone 8. Another 5 years after that i don’t even remember what colour it was. Who knows.. we might all have micro chips inserted into our arms by then and phones are a thing of the past. Not only have we lost our money, but the purchase was almost meaningless to us, and the scope of our lives.

It is easy to spend your money on these gadgets, and constantly get drawn into the consumptive society that we live in. The moment we start valuing these material things over meaningful experiences is in my opinion what is depriving ourselves of true fulfillment. Now i am obviously talking about this concept from a monetary point of view, and how best our time should be spent. I don’t want to be a slave for these things. I don’t want to be going to work to pay for these things. I want better value for my money!

I am trying to consider how much time and effort one should invest into their career. Perhaps the answer is that yes, you do need a certain amount of money to be happy, but anything above this is totally superfluous and will not bring you any more happiness. If we apply the common law of diminishing returns to this, i would argue that once you reach an income equilibrium point (it could be $60K) every dollar you earn over this will have a steeply diminishing effect on your life and happiness. Yes the society we live in demands that we do need money to pay rent or a mortgage, food, clothes etc but once we can comfortably do this, how much more does one need?

What sort of things are we buying with the additional dollars we earn over this amount? If the answer is a nicer car or a bigger house – i don’t think you will be happier. In fact you are falling into the trap of a life where we work for meaningless things. If the answer is that you maintain a humble life and instead use that money in a more meaningful way like travel or charity then YES there is scope for earning a lot of money. Looking back at the assessment of a human’s hierarchy of needs, perhaps you have just jumped to the philanthropic stage. The stage that truly brings you fulfillment. Why is it that people think you can only live your life with true freedom and become philanthropic only after achieving a self sustaining level of wealth?

I guess for the moment we have to get to that equilibrium point of earnings first. Be it $50K for one person, or $80K for another, we need to find out what it is. I would seriously reconsider the way you are spending your time after this however as i don’t believe any additional earning over this will enhance your life. If doing your job isn’t where you would choose to be given the freedom, don’t work there for any more time than you need to. If working 9 till 5 gets you to that equilibrium point, perhaps it doesn’t make any sense to work that extra three hours for that extra bit of money you will use towards a new car. Go home and spend that time with your family. Look to maintain a more humble lifestyle and take every opportunity to have meaningful experiences and develop meaningful relationships.

Don’t be a slave to the rat race!

2 thoughts on “How much is enough to live the life that will truly bring me happiness and fulfillment?

  1. A very interesting article! Most people want to be successful in their chosen career and strive to get to the top and be noticed and appreciated for all their hard work. Only when this happens are they fulfilled, maybe for most it never happens so they continue in the rat race, until suddenly thirty years have passed and they never stopped to smell the roses!!
    You are quite right, how much is enough? Some of the most humblest people are the happiest.
    All nice in theory but please get a job soon haha?

    1. haha yes that’s the thing.. it’s all theory. Everyone is different and want different things in life. I am looking forward to working in London, but not just yet!!! 😀 xx

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