What is something that money can’t buy?

Can money buy happiness? If life is a bowl of berries, how many will we want to feel satisfied?

Courtesy Glen Carrie unsplashThere are many theories and perspectives about the things we measure in our lives: time, money, energy. These are often heaped up in an attempt to support other intangibles such as happiness, contentedness, satisfaction, or meaning.

I came across this question on Quora: What is something that money can’t buy?

I especially like this answer from James Altucher (Blogger, author, … more)

James Altucher

Joseph Heller wrote the massive bestseller, Catch-22 about World War II. I recommend anyone read the book but that’s not what this answer is about.

Later in his life Heller went to a party in the Hamptons. Mostly young hedge fund guys at the party.While he was at the party, someone came up to him and pointed out some 25 year old guy. “You see that guy over there?” the someone said. “That guy made more money last year than all of your books will make in your entire lifetime, times ten.”

Joseph Heller looked at the 25 year old guy then said. “But I have one thing that that man will never have.”

His friend gave a sort of scoff and said, “What could that possibly be?”

And Joseph Heller said, “Enough.”

Ask around or ask yourself – how much is enough?

How much happier will someone be who has just a little more money than they had before? How much more content will someone be who has just a little more food on their plate?

Economists, sociologists, and others who research Happiness Economics often point out the law of diminishing returns. Study after study across many countries show the same effect: a small amount is sufficient for life satisfaction. Each additional amount earned adds only a marginal amount of happiness or satisfaction. In many cases, there can be a point of negative returns, meaning that too much can actually bring about unhappiness, such as worrying about losing what we have.

This effect has been dubbed the Eas­terlin paradox, named after University of Southern California professor Richard Easterlin.

Of drink
and victuals
and suchlike stuff
a bit too little’s
about enough.
Piet Hein

I’m curious to hear your answers to these questions: How much is enough? How do we know when we have enough? What are some steps to happiness?

12 thoughts on “What is something that money can’t buy?

  1. For me happiness is a state of being, it is not something that comes and goes, it just is. I feel that I am happy all the time, even when I am sad, but that is just me. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to others. How much is enough? Well, enough of what? I mean, I am not materialistic and I have never desired to own much, I am also not so much into money. What I want is to create, to Love, to grow spiritually, to meet lots of lovely people, to comfort, to heal, and you can never really have enough of that, can you? I mean, isn’t that why we have this “instinct” to never settle, to keep wanting, to keep going, so that we will keep evolving as human beings, to become better versions of ourselves, to create a better world, to keep growing and expanding…? That is how I feel at least. So I feel little sad when this desire to grow and expand spiritually gets turned into a desire to posess, to own, to be above. All these machines we created to help us, to make life easier so that we didn’t have to wash our clothes by hand, or cook our food over a fire, or chop wood, or fetch water, or stich clothes or hunt for food, weren’t they supposed to give us more time to think about spiritual matters? To sit quietly and think about who we are and where we are going? Wasn’t the fact that we no longer have to fight and struggle to fulfill our basic needs supposed to make the world less comepetitive? To make us more peaceful and caring? When did man decide to anchor himself in his ego instead of his soul? When did getting become more important than giving? In a world where we no longer have to fight for survival one should think the role of the ego would diminish, grow weaker, but it seems to me that man has chosen the opposite path, to lessen the role of the soul intstead, and that, to me, is the wrong path.

  2. Desire is of course a pretty rapacious element in most people’s psychological make-up. There’s a running oscillation between either wanting or not wanting this or that which manifests in greater or lesser degrees of intensity of desire. To be altogether desireless, to any sustained extent, is rare indeed. It is in fact the apotheosis of what is regarded as the spiritual life. So I think there’s the need to differentiate between subtle desire and craving when we evaluate subjectively ‘how much is enough?’ From an objective point of view, then we might say ‘enough’ is no more than what is required for our subsistence; though this will never accord with subjective assessments of need of course, wherein desire, cupidity and aversion are the ultimate arbiters, rather than any imagined impartial analysis.

    An excellent and most interesting post Vincent, for which many thanks.


  3. Dear Hariod,
    I’m delighted by your sagacity and thoughtfulness. Yes, desire could be envisioned along a spectrum of degrees of intensity. Perhaps craving would be a separate dimension, relating to desire in the stickiness of our attachment to the object.
    Then the next step is knowing what is enough or too much of either desire or craving. While some say we should rebuke the world and our senses, that seems excessive to me. By uncoupling the attachment, then whatever may arise in the world will have little effect on us. In that case, then we will be closer to contentedness.
    Thank you once again for your inspiring words.
    Kind regards,

  4. Dear Trini,
    Thanks for your hopeful analysis. It does seem to me on some ideal level that as more of our basic needs are fulfilled, people would be elevated towards living out higher values – to feed their spirit, to grow, to help fellow people, animals, and the planet, and live very meaningful lives. As you point out, too often people have instead turned towards the material and acquiring more and more things.
    I’ve found it interesting to get to know many homeless people and others who live quite modestly. Many are quite spiritual, kind, and loving both in their actions and their words.
    It seems to me it’s simply a different aspect of who we are, and more about our orientation and values.
    For those who don’t ever feel they have enough, is there anything which can be done to help them feel more satisfied? Or, would it help all of us if their dissatisfaction were directed towards helping themselves in broader ways which also serve others?

  5. I absolutely love this post ~ and I 100% agree that a little is more than enough.
    My husband and I sold everything to move to Korea to teach English. We have so much less than we used to yet we are so much happier these days. We talk constantly about how we’ll never be able to go back to that lifestyle we once had where we thought accruing more and more would actually make us feel better. Not the case.
    We just came back from a vacation in Sri Lanka and our tour guide kept stressing that Sri Lanka likes the simple life – that’s our motto now, keeping it simple and raking in the happiness benefits because of it.
    Great post and amazing food for though! 🙂
    ~ Andrea ❤

  6. Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoy the post.
    I admire what you and your husband have done – which is to live out your intention. I’m grateful you are reporting back how it is after making the change. Yes, there’s a definite richness to living the simple life, such as giving more time to be able to appreciate many other things than keeping track of stuff.

  7. How much is enough? I have been sad today. I have thought “How much is enough symptoms until we begin to heal.. until we admit we are hurting ourselves. There seems to be something that desires to go to the very edge. I know, I have been there. I’m not sure why it is that way. Maybe that is how I found out the hard way what enough means.

  8. Dear Laurie,
    Thanks for your heartfelt words. I’m hearing how taking things to the edge is causing pain and angst. I’m also hearing that there’s something in you (like the rest of us) that keeps pushing those edges, reaching just ever-so far. Then, those sharp edges spark sadness and feelings of not being whole. Am I close?
    I’ve felt a lot of the same and wonder if maybe it’s how we’re wired as people. Maybe it’s how we learn. Over time, either by reaching more often to the light than avoiding the dark, we do in fact grow into our radiant and healthy selves. I’ve seen it.

  9. Dear Vincent, Thank you very much for this thoughtful, mindful, stimulating post and ensuing discussion. I think about “enough” a lot, most often asking myself what enough would look or feel like in a given situation. Especially whether I have done or given enough….

    I can’t tell you how much I LOVE the Joseph Heller tale–fantastic! You remind me of a conversation I had this week with a new acquaintance who is originally from Crimea. We were talking about space and notions of what constitutes comfort for living space/abodes. She shared that with her background, Western (and northeastern US, to be specific) ideas about space were shockingly different from her land of origin–we desire and feel we need much more space here. Interestingly and not surprisingly, she related how folks like her feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable with “too much” space…until they acclimate.

    Rock on, my friend. xo

  10. i guess contentment is enough – good health – being part of a loving family.. I don’t know anymore. thanks tough for the posts. Eve

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