2500 Years of Enough

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

Even after 2500 (or rather thousands of) years, we don’t seem to have an answer for these questions…

•      What is Enough?
•      Is this Enough?
•      How much is Enough?

Do you?

If you do, sincere and heartiest congratulations…

Because if you know what enough means and how much is enough, you have cracked the code of dealing wisely with money. Because beyond a certain point, having more money will not lead to more security, freedom, and happiness. Because security, freedom, and happiness do not come from more money (at least, not beyond a certain point). They come from knowing when to stop…They come from knowing how much is enough.

I had read an interesting post “2500 Years of Thinking About ‘How Much is Enough” by Steve Sanduski, a business coach to financial advisors in the US…Now you know, why I chose 2500 years as a reference point…In today’s post, I reproduce some portion of Steve’s post in addition to my take on the topic. While there are many layers to the “enough” conversation, it’s important to understand how some of history’s big thinkers thought about this question and see what we can learn from them and apply to our world today.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (born 571 BC) is renowned for his mind-blowing work, “Tao Te Ching”, a book considered as one of the greatest philosophical (and spiritual) classics. I had read a couple of translations of the Tao Te Ching and was amazed (least to say) by its wisdom. Guess what, Lao Tzu talks about abundance, enough and contentment in the book.

Here are a few quotes from a few different translations I have come across.

He who is satisfied with his lot is rich.”

“There is no calamity greater than to be discontented with one’s lot; no fault greater than the wish to be getting. Therefore, the sufficiency of contentment is an enduring and unchanging sufficiency.

“If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”

“If you look to others for fulfilment, you will never be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Aren’t these thoughts fascinating?
Meditate on it for some time with a cup of coffee/green tea… You can even have conversations about it with the trusted people in your life.

Steve wrote, “More recently (in 1759), Adam Smith, widely known for his book, “The Wealth of Nations,” suggests that it’s not the wealth itself that we crave, but the happiness, comfort, and social approval we believe it will bring us.

However, Smith warned against the danger of equating wealth with virtue or happiness. He observed that wealth often fails to deliver the happiness people expect it to bring and simply pursuing wealth could lead us away from virtue. Smith believed that one’s sense of self-worth should not depend on material possessions but rather on the moral virtues they uphold, such as justice, prudence, and beneficence.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that Smith would have advised us to consider not just how much money we amass, but how we use it, and how it aligns with our moral sentiments. For Smith, having “enough” money is about securing a comfortable life, but not at the expense of our virtues or our ability to sympathize with others.”

Simply pursuing wealth takes us away from our purpose. I would even go to the extent of saying that more money serves no purpose…Without a purpose, money is simply a number for us to feel secure, free, and powerful (for some). Additionally, it inflates our egos, helps us feel important or worth something. Haven’t we heard these lines…Elon Musk is worth $ 200 billion…My neighbour is worth Rs.100+ Crore…While I can expand on these lines, I know I am likely to digress so let me come back to the point…

The key is to know the answers to the following questions…

Why am I pursuing more money…What will this more do for me, my family, and my legacy (if you are thinking that far)? How will this additional wealth serve us? How is my enough helping me live the life I have imagined? Don’t I already have enough? Is Enough even a number or a feeling?

This takes me to Jacob Needleman’s 1994 book, “Money and the Meaning of Life.” If we understood the true role of money in our lives, writes Jacob Needleman, we would not think simply in terms of spending and saving. Money exerts a deep emotional influence on who we are and what we tell ourselves. Our long unwillingness to understand the emotional and spiritual effects of money on us is at the heart of why we have come to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

In terms of “How much money is enough?” Needleman suggests that may be the wrong question. How much is not a number.

Steve added, “Needleman views money not merely as a material means but as a mirror reflecting our values, our desires, and our understanding of ourselves and the world.

The problem, as he sees it, lies in our misunderstanding of money. We often assign to money a power it doesn’t inherently possess – the power to provide happiness, security, and worth. This misunderstanding leads us to the relentless pursuit of wealth, often at the expense of our emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Needleman proposes that money, in its true essence, is a neutral force. It is not intrinsically good or evil. Instead, it’s our attitude towards money, our understanding of its role and purpose, and our use of it, that gives it moral and emotional weight.

Drawing from various spiritual and philosophical traditions, Needleman suggests that we must go through a process of inner transformation to correct our misunderstanding of money. We need to reflect deeply on our desires, fears, and beliefs associated with money. This reflection should lead us to the understanding that money is a tool, a means to fulfil our needs, and not an end in itself.

Practically, Needleman suggests that our relationship with money can only be healthy if we understand our true needs. Often, we confuse our wants with our needs, leading us to the constant pursuit of more. Needleman argues that most of our true needs are not material but psychological and spiritual. Hence, our pursuit of money should be balanced with our pursuit of inner growth and spiritual understanding.”

As I had written last week, no matter how much you have, two things will always be simultaneously true:
1. You don’t have enough.
2. You have more than enough.
3. The world we live in is built around the idea that we can never have enough…that we will always need more…

The questions then are…

How do you build a healthier (emotional, and spiritual) relationship with money?

What is your Enough and have you already found it? If you don’t have an answer to these questions, what are you going to do to find the answers…