How much money is enough?
It’s a philosophical money question that often arises out of discontent. We see someone of substantial means, like a celebrity, live a troubled life. Or, we ourselves experience great fortune yet feel unhappy.
It makes us wonder where the finish line is, the point when you can stop striving for more and settle into a life of satisfaction.
There are some great financial blogs that provide good answers, such as here and here. And then there are a variety of books that tackle this question in their own ways: Ego Is the Enemy, The Last Lecture, the Bible, to name a few.
Another book that resonates with me, perhaps because of its instructive format, is How Will You Measure Your Life? by the late Clayton Christensen.
He comes to the startling realization:
“I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.”
That to me is the answer to the question. Though it is, in a way, a non-answer. As with many of life’s mysteries, there is no definitive conclusion.
There is never enough money.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that you can always use more money to achieve a perfect life. Rather, I mean the exact opposite.
No amount of money will insulate you from suffering.
This week Elon Musk’s wealth jumped by $36 billion in a single day, bringing his net worth close to $300 billion. Yet, even he has experienced some very public setbacks, including the tragedy of losing his first child.
“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Eccles. 9:11)
There is no such thing as enough money, as there is no destination of absolute happiness. It’s all about simply having the capacity to notice the truly joyful things along the journey.
Pay attention to the wrong things, and life starts to feel empty. As Christensen writes:
“In your life, there are going to be constant demands for your time and attention. How are you going to decide which of those demands gets resources? The trap many people fall into is to allocate their time to whoever screams loudest, and their talent to whatever offers them the fastest reward.”
His solution is to focus on what provides lasting happiness:
“Intimate, loving, and enduring relationships with our family and close friends will be among the sources of the deepest joy in our lives.”
I am writing this because yesterday we had to say good-bye to a special member of our family. Our dog Sunny, who I referenced in this previous blog, developed a severe case of intervertebral disc disease. We woke one morning to find her acting strange, and within 48 hours she was paralyzed. With a heavy sigh, the neurologist gave us the bad news that her chances of any type of recovery were minimal. At best, she would need consistent pain management. That was no way for her to live.
I am extremely grateful for the gift of having her in my life.
In the afternoon, my wife took Sunny for her last walk. We gently set her in the kids’ red wagon. Then she pulled her around the neighborhood, taking her one last time around her favorite trees and brightly colored fire hydrants. The late October sky was unseasonably warm and clear. The white sun brightened Sunny’s golden fur.
When my wife and Sunny came back around the corner, I felt as rich as possible — to have known Sunny, to have such a caring and loving partner, to have a tragic day made picture perfect in so many ways.
There is never enough money, if you can’t see the riches in front of you now.
The question shouldn’t be: how much money is enough? It should be: how much more clarity do you need to see the rich, joyful things happening all around you?