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Jul 26

My Inner Stoic: Being Content

Being Content is to Love Your Life

I live in the richest country that mankind has ever known. The United States has just under 5% of the world’s population but uses 30% of the world’s resources. It seems to me that if more was better than pretty much everybody here should be the most satisfied and happiest people in the world.

But that isn’t true. Not by a long shot.

Americans are some of the most dissatisfied people on Earth.

I don’t mean to imply that I am a minimalist, because I am not. I don’t mind if people have lots of things, so long as they aren’t in debt for them. What I am saying is that so many people have an insatiable desire to always have more, more, more. It is sad that so many people will never be satisfied with what they have.

A recent survey by Trulia showed that 33% of new homeowners regretted buying their house. The reason? They wished they bought a bigger house.

These people have what nearly half the renters in the country want – a home to call their own – and they nearly instantly regret it because they want more. The “more is better” thinking is not allowing these people to enjoy their hard earned home.

It seems that most of us get or achieve something we immediately move to acquire the next thing. That we can’t just take some time to enjoy the thing we have accomplished.

This way of thinking turns us into slaves. It is a way for others to make us do their bidding. It is the carrot dangling from the stick.

I see this at work all the time. People come in early and leave late. I am not talking minutes, but HOURS. I can’t imagine that they love it so much more than being able to do whatever else they could at home. They think that by doing this they will get in the good graces of the people above them and thereby secure promotion.

I can’t imagine how many days/weeks/months those extra hours add up to. That is a piece of their lifetime they will never get back.

I am happy with where I am now so I would rather use that time to do pursue things that I enjoy, instead of chasing that chance for promotion.

Princeton University completed a study back in 2010 that put a $75,000 annual income the point of peak happiness. My income is just under that number. Whether or not you believe their conclusion it is close enough for me.

If we all were content with the abundance we currently have we would remove the main tool that our current society uses. There is a reason government reports call the population ‘Consumers’.

I do not mean that people shouldn’t want more than what they have, only that their happiness shouldn’t be dependent on having more. By being happy with what you have now you will be just as satisfied in the future, whether or not you get more.

Get rid of the mindset that your happiness depends on getting more of what you desire. Otherwise, you will find once you reach that goal you will only want even more.

A simple reminder happened to me this week, and a quote by one of my favorite philosophers – Epictetus – popped into my head.

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.”

One of the people I supervise has recently become divorced from his wife. I’ll leave it short, but she was the one in the wrong during the marriage. Anyways, he had been eating out very often during and after the divorce and on Monday he brought his homemade lunch to work (I had been nudging him to do so because of the cost). I asked him about it and he told me that all the food was tasting the same and no longer made him happy to have it.

This is in contrast to myself, where I eat out once or twice per month. To me, it is a treat that brings me and my family pleasure.

It does not change my happiness level because I am content without it. Pleasure and happiness are not the same. In fact, the restless pursuit of pleasure often leads to less happiness.

But I do appreciate that I have such a fortunate life that I can afford to do this.

Another quote comes to mind now, this one from Marcus Aurelius. “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

Look within yourself and love the life you have.

When those new wants and needs come into your life you will find yourself appreciating them so much more.

You will find that you have become the wealthiest person in the world.

As the ancient philosopher Seneca The Younger once said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

11 comments

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  1. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    The key is moderation, after all. I also found it really helps to detach from material stuff as often as we do, so we can see that life is happy without so much crap.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…7 Things You Can Give Up While Paying off DebtMy Profile

    1. MrDD

      A little bit of this and a little bit of that keeps it fresh and something to look forward to.

  2. Steveark

    I understand the message but I think people who come in early or stay late, even a few hours, sometimes are having the time of their life on some particularly important or exciting project. I never worked late just to impress others but there were times I just couldn’t put something down or when the project was very urgent. I wouldn’t trade those hours for anything, they were major milestones in my life. They also were the very steps that made my career so enjoyable and profitable. Like so many other things in life, it all depends on the motive.

    1. MrDD

      Where I work we don’t have projects such as you describe. But yes, if your job is truly what motivates your life then spend lots of time there. As for me, I can find much better use of my time in other areas that interest me. I don’t identify my job as my life, even if my job wishes that to be so.

      1. Steveark

        It isn’t an all or nothing thing. Work was never my top priority, my family was. But work was still an important part of my life and one of the most entertaining and fun parts. People are all different but many, particularly many engineers, are motivated by achievement, especially measurable achievement like bridges or factories that they were a major contributor in building. No different than a composer taking pleasure in creating a great symphonic piece. Some people do toil away for long hours because they are motivated by negative emotions like fear or greed. But some others are doing deep work and they are in the flow and just lose track of the time. It probably is a rare thing but it happened often to me and I never saw it as a negative. Now I’m early retired and have all the time in the world and never miss that old life, but still it was fun at the time. I still work part time even though I have zero need for additional income. I do need demanding mental challenges though I think and my side gigs give me that. Appreciate your blog and the insight you provide to so many of us on this journey!

        1. MrDD

          I agree with you, I think that humans have a need to complete achievements. The feeling you have when you fix something that broke or reach a goal. While some people obtain this feeling from work, I do it in my personal life. To me, the best would be to get a some of that feeling from both work and ‘not-work’.

          When someone only gets that feeling from work, I find that their job becomes their identity. I don’t want that, I want to be known for my own thing. So maybe I have shunned the feeling of work accomplishments too much, but it only has increased my pursuit of personal goals and growth.

          Thanks for the kind words about my blog, 🙂

  3. Cody @ Dollar Habits

    PREACH! Thank you for the on point sermon today, Reverend DD! Love the message!
    Cody @ Dollar Habits recently posted…How to Harness the Power of HabitsMy Profile

  4. Tim Kim @ Tub of Cash

    Reminds me of the Stuff You Should Know (podcast) episode I recently listened to. I do agree that the Western World (especially the US, and even more-so Los Angeles) is pretty consumed with consumption. The promotions the toys and the houses. It’s a bit excessive. I remember reading that thing about the $75K income as well and happiness has severe diminishing returns after that. I kinda agree with it, but not entirely. Only because it depends on where you live. in an HCOL or VHCOL area, $75K can mean you can barely afford rent for a 2bed 2 bath + save for retirement. Which I don’t think is anything excessive when one has a family. Thanks for sharing!

    1. MrDD

      Ha! After just coming back from a four day stay in Los Angeles I have seen the price craziness first hand.

      The world is not L.A. or San Fran though. The average American family takes in around $50/55k a year. There are plenty of places where that is comfortable living, so an extra 50% bump is quite nice.

  5. Mr Defined Sight

    I’ve found that living a simpler life with less “stuff” is so much more enjoyable. I don’t desire a lake home or a timeshare somewhere on the beach. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel but I don’t need side stuff that takes extra money for upkeep and maintenance. All in moderation!
    Mr Defined Sight recently posted…My Favorite Financial AdviceMy Profile

    1. MrDD

      This reminds me of some things I see around town. I live in southern Arizona but people still have boats in their yard! I think the nearest body of water that you could boat around in is at least a 3 hour drive! I always see the boats there, maybe they use them a bit when I am not looking but I don’t think they do.

      When I bought our house the neighbors had a boat in their yard. About a year later they lost their house to a foreclosure.

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