Thursday, December 3, 2009

When to say uncle

How Much Is Enough?

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, the late Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, the author Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel, Catch-22, over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have: Enough'

There was a story a couple of years ago in the London Sunday Times Magazine - they asked a sampling of Londoners what would make them happy in a material sense. People had various responses but they were all similar - a nice car, house, clothes, wife/husband, vacations, artworks etc. Well the paper then calculated the costs of these basics for happiness and the figure came out to be over 1.7 million British Pounds (about 2.5 million dollars). Divided by the average British after tax salary it meant that it would take the average British citizen 145 years to put together all the things they would need to be happy. Since the average life expectancy in England is about 78 years...well I guess you see the point.

In Mexico, if you have 500 dollars a month to spend on living you are living high on the hog. In New York City that wouldn't cover your cab tab for a month. In Kabul Afghanistan, one dollar will get you a days worth of food, shelter and maybe a little entertainment. In Paris that dollar (70 Euro cents) will buy you a one minute phone conversation on a public phone. And so it goes, the world turns and people with relative extraordinary wealth live in places that cost extraordinarily expensive and end up living in relative poverty.

"The true deception of financial freedom need not be blamed on anyone but oneself; however, this is not necessarily an intentional deception — it is a result of the human condition. As humans, we are constantly searching for patterns that will reveal the shortest distance from point A to point B; and we are searching for meaning and fulfillment; but we trick ourselves into believing that we are searching for pleasure — and money buys pleasure, at least according to the thousands of implicit and explicit messages we receive on a daily basis."

I live in a small village, pop 15,000, where people with very little wealth or income live extraordinarily well. Beautiful small but charming homes, excellent year round weather, ocean, nature, clean locally grown fruit and vegetables, fresh locally caught seafood, affordable restaurants and excellent near to free health care. And when I visit the U.S. and see people who are earning 200, 000 plus a year stressed out and freaked out about money and expenses and having to have more to be able to be in a place where they can be happy.

"There is no such thing as financial freedom, at least not in the conventional sense of the term, which is the great deception. Paradoxically, the pursuit of financial freedom is closer to slavery than it is liberating. Furthermore, and in my humble opinion, freedom cannot be procured by financial means — freedom most likely lies at the point at which the utility for money begins to diminish — the point at which the basic sources of physical well-being — food, shelter and clothing — have been met. Beyond this point, freedom cannot be procured by financial means, yet millions continue pursuing the idea of financial freedom."

This is the deceit. This is the illusion.

True freedom begins by learning contentment — by the realization that you already have “enough” — where the search for pleasure can be replaced by the search for meaning.

(quotes from: Kent Thune the blog author of The Financial Philosopher )

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