This is another quote by "L," the mysterious author of the article from New Orleans newspaper, "The Daily Crescent" in June 1848. Whoever the author, this is a thought that has probably crossed the minds of humans from every culture and every era. A similar quote has been attributed to Plato, "The greatest wealth is to live content with little."
I used to ask my kids, "What makes someone rich?" How much money does it take to be considered rich? Their answer might be one million dollars. But while one million dollars may provide you with a sultan's retirement back in Ohio, it won't last more than a few years in the SF Bay Area. So maybe the answer should be 10? or 50 millions dollars?
I have tried to break down this saying into a mathematical formula with two variables. The way I see it, wealth is something I correlate with contentment. It is the amount of money or resources one needs to obtain everything they desire. Although this is an oversimplication, the two variables are essentially money (or resources) and desire (or needs). In my experience, society's attainment of wealth seems to concentrate on the first part of the equation, i.e. earn more money, consume more resources, ascend to higher positions of power and influence--in order to chase those things that makes one content. Perhaps it is lazy or passive to think this way, but wouldn't it be easier to focus on the second part of the equation? Instead of increasing the means, why not decrease my needs and desires? Is a powerful, but chronically stressed-out CEO who owns a collection of 20 vintage sports car necessarily more successful than a blissfully ignorant guy living simply in a studio apartment?
The affluent of California, and especially of the Bay Area, are the consummate display of the Hedonic Treadmill in action. From the earliest days of subsisting as a frugal college student through years of schooling and training to becoming partner in my company, I have not noticed much change in my feelings of well-being or contentment. Indeed, some of my happiest memories were from the years that my girlfriend (and later wife) and I tripping over each other, living in a cramped studio apartment in West LA and eating Taco Bell for too many dinners. Over the years, as I have achieved more, progressed in my career, and earned more money and status, I notice that mainly, only the "things" around me have changed. The TV gets progressively bigger. The routine maintenance for our cars is more expensive and more extensive by the year. The living space has increased in size. I can pee in my own personal bathroom. My neighbors have gotten wealthier and more discerning, and there is a new Tesla on the block every time I look. Most of all, my responsibilities have become heavier.
I can confidently say that I am no happier now than I was before. I can see that no matter what you accumulate, you will not become happier. You will just be equally unhappy about bigger things.
Northern California dad