In Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life (2008,) mutual fund pioneer John C. Bogle puts emphasis on the virtue of contentment:
At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, 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.”
Enough. I was stunned by the simple eloquence of that word—stunned for two reasons: first, because I have been given so much in my own life and, second, because Joseph Heller couldn’t have been more accurate. For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit today on what enough entails …
We chase the false rabbits of success; we too often bow down at the altar of the transitory and finally meaningless and fail to cherish what is beyond calculation, indeed eternal. That message, I think, is what Joseph Heller captured in that powerful single word, enough.
It used to be that a well-tended lawn of 50 by 100 feet was wasteful indeed. Today, it’s in the by-laws of the local housing association. You could impress the neighbors with a new Cadillac, now you not only need a Tesla, but you need a new Tesla. And you could show off by flying first class, but then you needed to charter a plane, then charter a jet, then charter a bigger jet, then buy a fractional share, then own the whole thing, then get a bigger one and on and on.
Conspicuous consumption is not absolute, it’s relative.
It’s sort of a selfish potlatch, in which each person seeks to demonstrate status, at whatever the personal or societal cost, by out-consuming the others.
It’s a lousy game, because if you lose, you lose, and if you win, you also lose.
The only way to do well is to refuse to play.
It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. What does it matter how much a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his neighbour’s property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his hopes of gains to come? Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough.
Our consumerist society encourages us not to be grateful for what we have.
Idea for Impact: Why is more and more always better if it can never be enough?