If you haven’t read the de-value of abundance article, read it first.
Suppose you’re born into a wealthy family for a moment and the concept of money doesn’t really exist because it has no real limits. Because there aren’t limits, you naturally seek experiences that you want and crave, without limit. Want a steak or lobster dinner every night? Want a brand new Mercedes for your 16th birthday? Want to live in the nicest 2 bedroom condo in the central park of town? You can, and you naturally will because you’re able to and the lifestyle seems fun. Others might even envy you for the lifestyle that seemingly so many others want.
You become used to living in the nicest places, used to eating the nicest food available, and used to driving in the most comfort. Because you become used to it, you begin to value things that aren’t quite up to par as less valuable. For example, if you have to sleep on the floor of your friends house for a week it will be much more difficult because you’re used to sleeping in luxury. If you have to drive an old used car you’re more likely to complain because you’re used the Mercedes. Or if you have to eat at a food court you’ll not enjoy it as much because you’re used to the nicest dinners in town.
Because most of the world is full of standard “living” by definition, surely by making yourself comfortable and used to above average “living”, it will inevitably lead to discomfort and lack of happiness when you’re in normal environments. While you can certainly try to restrict yourself from “normal” environments, it is arguably better to be used to normal environments and restrict comfort and the de-value of “above average environments”. You have to be able to be comfortable in “normal” conditions, which most of the world is made up of.
The more you have of something the less value it holds. I wrote about this as the de-value of abundance. $1 is a lot if all you have is $10. $1 is nothing if you have $1M.
Now, imagine living the luxurious life described aboved, as many do. It is a life without, in this case, financial limits. Because we as humans by default seek experiences that we think we want and desire, we naturally tend to live lifestyles that accommodate our wealth (humans spend relative to their income). I think this is a flaw that has unintended consequences and is why most wealthier people tend to be less happy than the middle working class. To represent what I meant in another way, take a look at the chart below:
The red dotted line represents the financial wealth of a rich person, while the black dotted line represents the middle class. The objects on the graph represent things you can buy in relation to your wealth. An iPhone is affordable for the middle class, as is a steak dinner. A house is above the black dotted line meaning it would require the middle class to work hard and save up to afford, and a car is below a house using the same logic.
If you’re rich, everything is below the line. Nothing requires saving for, nothing requires waiting for, nothing requires working hard for in the future – you already have the wealth to get it. Because this this creates unlimited opportunity to buy whatever you want, everything becomes abundant and each object/experience loses it’s value.
I used the money example above to demonstrate how life without limits (financially) ultimately leads to overall less enjoyable experiences (side note: did you know 70% of people who win the lottery go bankrupt in their lifetime?). However, I propose that this doesn’t just apply to money, but applies to *everything* in life. Anything abundant loses value.
There was a good conversation with Dan Bilzerian on the Joe Rogan podcast a couple months ago where they talked about happiness, listen to his response here (start at 2hr, 32min) – the way he describes it is what I’m describing in the chart above:
So how do we deal with this? The answer is somewhat counterintuitive…
Imposing limits on your life leads to overall more enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness with your life. Limits help you hold value to most things you care about in life – most things that make you happy.
Like steak dinners? Limit yourself to one per month to keep the value of it high. Like nice cars? Rent a nice one every so often to get the feel and dopamine release, and the long to do it again. If you buy it, that will inevitably fade. Get used to the “normal” life, not the “high” life.
Without limiting your life, you’ll end up being less happy, less fulfilled, and overall less satisfied with your life, assuming there aren’t other factors already limiting it for you.
Going back to the example of financial abundance (having lots of money), one of the theories is that when you have a lot of money, you have a lot of freedom. You can take the nicest vacations, go to the most exotic places, eat the nicest food, buy the nicest cars. Experiences that most people long for are in grasp, so you naturally pursue them. After you’ve have a lot of these experiences and bought much of these goods, they become abundant themselves and therefore each additional experience is less valued, therefore leading to less things to look forward to, less things that excite you, less unique experiences to be had, etc. This doesn’t mean a person with financial abundance has done everything there is to be done, it means each new experience no longer holds much value because they’ve had countless others ones – they’ve become abundant.
On the other side of the coin, if you always long for an experience and have to work long and hard for it, it is scarce (not abundant). This makes the experience hold more value – as well as all future experiences you long for. This effect keeps you excited, keeps you looking and working for more experiences, and that feat itself is what fulfills people.
In the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, Yuval Harari gives an excellent historical analysis of who we are, what we do, and why we do it (we being homo-sapiens). There is an excellent chapter on happiness and meaning in which Harari writes: “Happiness depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.” While we aren’t really in control of our objective conditions so much, if we change our expectations, our happiness changes. It’s worth thinking about more, and realizing that most feelings in life come down to mindset, which influences what you end up doing with your life, how you live it, and how pleasurable your life is. Below is the Chapter 24 audiobook which is definitely worth listening to (though I’d recommend reading the entire book):[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/296145853″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Life is short, and sure it’s meant to be enjoyed. Imposing limits isn’t meant to prohibit you from enjoying all the things you want in life, but if our goal is to be happy and maximize well being, limiting yourself is almost guaranteed the better way forward rather than indulging in every desire you have as often as you want.
For most of history, humans lived in scarcity of almost everything. Since the industrial revolution, there is now an oversupply of almost everything. How do we deal with more goods than we can possibly consume? We market them and convince people why they should buy them, or why they need them. We’re buying things that 5 minutes before we didn’t know even existed. Consumerism convinces people that indulgence is good for you, where frugality is self oppression. Consumerism has succeeded in it’s goal – we now live in a world of more abundance than ever before, being convinced and persuaded by society to indulge. The affect of this abundance is less happiness, less satisfaction, more complaining, and less gratitude – a common theme amongst western culture today.
The Paradox of Choice, Again
Another major player in this is the paradox of choice. It is basically that if you have abundant choices, you’re a) less likely to make a choice at all, and b) if you do make a choice, you’re less likely to be happy with it. In a world of abundance, the selection of choices are much larger, and therefore the paradox is stronger. Without putting in limits, it will lead to less appreciation of the things you have, and a longing for all the other choices that could be. Or it leads to you choosing everything (and creating abundance) and therefore devaluing everything, ultimately leading to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment.
The takeaway from this post is that, though counter intuitive, limiting your life and experiences likely leads to more appreciation, more enjoyment, more happiness, and more satisfaction of everything. Confining your life in a way where you value everything in it as much as possible and don’t long for more and more likely leads to living a better life. While this has been a common theme amongst people throughout the ages (Stoics, monks, etc.), in todays world of abundance it’s worth thinking about more closely and clearly.
So next time you notice yourself doing something in abundance, consider what limits you can place to increase the value of the experience rather than making it more abundant and de-valuing it. Our instincts alone won’t lead us to happiness.