What is Enough?

The following passage is cited from Vanguard founder Jack Bogle’s book, Enough:

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.”

I was walking to class with a fifth grade teacher at my primary school today. “What is your dream job?” I asked her. It’s a common question that I’ve often asked and been asked by friends.

“This is my dream job,” she replied with a smile, pointing at the school building. It was one of those moments that was simple and brief, but also profound.

I do believe that life is transient, and the question of “what is enough” is an important one for everyone to ask themselves. You cannot intrinsically be happy if, in the deepest part of your soul, you do not have enough of what you believe you need.

Sadly, we live in a time where it’s easy to always feel a compulsion to climb, to yearn for more, and to chase a greater status. For many, there is never enough, and this, I think, is what causes some of the wealthiest people to ironically die feeling unfulfilled.

We’re always chasing greater returns in our finances, causing us to take on more risk, expenses, and complications. We’re always chasing a bigger home, a better car, a better school for our kids, and a better city to live in. We chase with a vehement and rabid obsession that can bring out the worst in us, when simplicity is the true solution to our problem. I’m guilty of it too! And regardless of how good we seem to have it, a media report springs up about how we could potentially have things even better, if we’d just buy the latest fad!

How can I define what is enough for me now, if it cannot be found in something bigger that I can buy one day in a hypothetical future?

The answer to this question, I think, can be found in the past. There are values that we can derive from the past that are too neglected in the present.

What are these values?

Simplicity and frugality are high on the list. Regardless of your wealth, they lead to peace of mind. They nullify the need to chase and validate beyond what is necessary.

Also high on my list are the willingness to help people in need, and to love and be loved. I don’t think I need to justify these.

Simple, but I don’t see how these values aren’t needed today!

Ironically, when we do these things well, money tends to take care of itself. Work becomes a more fulfilling duty and we become more valued citizens.

I compare the aforementioned teacher with some of the corporate hyenas I knew, who obsessed over their job titles, their offices, their out-of-scope mortgages, their hybrid cars, their hypothetical promotions, and their social media statuses. Their offices tended to have the door closed–how dare the cubicle lemmings speak to them without knocking!

That closed office door was, to me, symbolic of the hole in their core. What compels a person to work somewhere nicer than the company’s fellow men and women, besides the need to flaunt status?

I recall a date I had, many years ago, when the woman asked me, “Do you have your own office at work?” “No”, I answered, “I work in a cubicle.” She then taunted me with the revelation that she had her own office, as well as people who answered to her. She got me, I guess. I wasn’t one of the “chosen ones.”

But did she have enough?

If you choose not to play their game, but live a prosperous and giving life regardless, are you really losing?

Finally, I’ll compare the corporate hyenas I knew with the aforementioned teacher I spoke with. The salary of the corporate crony is probably much higher, yet I’d venture to guess that they also have more debt–possibly much more. More importantly, they have greater stress due to the complications their status chasing has gathered.

Most importantly, the teacher has the crown jewel that they might die having never found: enough.