When Is Enough, Enough? And 5 Tips to Find Out

06/25/2015 05:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016


Over the weekend, Thom and I had dinner with a friend whose lifestyle changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Our friend Tami* was single for most of the 30+ years we've known her. Then a couple of years ago she married a very wealthy man. Although Tami was always financially secure, she now admitted how great it felt to never have to worry about bills or finances ever again. Unfortunately, her joy was short-lived. Within five minutes, she began complaining about the high amount of taxes she and her new husband would be paying, along with the drain her new husband's adult children were on the family. Later she grumbled about how unfair it was of the current political administration to even consider raising her tax rate. That conversation was a great reminder that it is easy to forget that our sense of well-being, comfort and peace of mind has less to do with how much money we have -- and everything to do with how we think about it. In most cases, regardless of how much we actually have in the bank -- we only have enough when we think we have enough.

So when is enough really enough? According to a study done at Princeton in 2010, most Americans report a high sense of emotional well being when they make around $75,000 per year. Above $75,000/year, an individual's emotional well-being corresponded to their individual temperament and life circumstances rather than any extra income. As may be expected, as income decreases from $75,000, people reported falling levels of happiness, and higher levels of sadness and stress. Beyond that, any of life's misfortunes including disease, divorce, sickness or other painful experiences have the potential to affect well-being in a person who is less financially secure much more dramatically than a wealthy person.

In contrast, the level of a person's "Life Evaluation" rises steadily with the level of income. While increasing income didn't change a person's emotional happiness on a daily basis, it did make people think of themselves as more happy and successful. For example, emotional well-being is higher on weekends -- but has nothing to do with overall life satisfaction. Being a college graduate creates a high life evaluation, but doesn't necessarily make for better emotional well-being. The take home message from the study itself, "High incomes don't bring you happiness, but they do bring you a life that you think is better." Again, this confirms that happiness and feelings of well-being are less dependent on the amount of money you have, and very dependent upon what you think about it.

Unfortunately, even when we know this to be true on an intellectual level, we don't always remember it. My friend Tami is in better financial shape right now with a lot more money than 99.5 percent of us ever will -- but she still worries about how to hang on to it and whether or not others will try to take some of it away. It may make her feel more satisfied or successful if she sits back and reflects, but on a day-to-day basis she is exactly about as happy and content as she was before.

What can we do if we want to remember this?

  1. One of the best ways all of us can keep our financial resources in perspective is to do service work for those less fortunate. When we are around others that have a lot less than we do, it helps us to remember what we do have -- then suddenly enough is enough.
  2. If you are fortunate to make around $75,000 a year, don't compromise or sacrifice yourself to make more. If the increased income doesn't come relatively smooth and naturally into your life, then think carefully before you pursue it. Maybe, just maybe what you are making right now is enough.
  3. Take time every single day to look around and be thankful for the things in your life. Remember, whatever we focus on tends to grow in our experience. If you spend more and more time being thankful for the little things in your life, they could add up to being way more than enough.
  4. Cultivate your internal measuring stick for personal happiness and well-being. Most of us use an external measure far too often and then are surprised when we don't measure up. When we get in touch with those things that make us happy -- regardless of whether anyone likes it or "gets it," then it doesn't matter how much money you do or don't make. Love jogging or gardening or riding your bike? Then do it. Enjoy playing with your kids or your guitar? Then do it. Like to read or hang out with your friends? Then do it. Most of the things that make us smile and feel happy are unrelated to our income. Start separating those qualities and focus on them.
  5. Find something to get passionate about. Have you ever been around someone who is on a mission? If we don't think we have enough, there is a chance that we are focusing on a fear of loss. People who are passionate about something are focusing on something that so inspires them that they aren't worried about loss. Get involved in something bigger than yourself and you might be surprised at how "good enough" and "rich enough" you feel.

Bonus Tip: Start hanging out with people who are happy and satisfied with their life just as it is. If you spend time with people who are never satisfied and always wanting more, more, and more, you'll soon find that you feel the same way. Instead, surround yourself with those who realize life is much more fulfilling and spectacular than how much they make or what they own. Hang out with people who have passion, who regularly help others, and who know what makes them happy from the inside-out, and you'll start doing the same.

Supposedly when John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men in the world, was asked how much money was enough, he replied, "A little bit more." Apparently, even he didn't realize that once you have your basics needs covered, you likely won't be any more satisfied or happy. And let's face it; even some of the poorer U.S. citizens have more than many others around the world. Of course, you'd never know that by the way many people constantly stress and overwork themselves. Or, like my friend Tami, people spend a lot of time focusing on losing their money, instead of celebrating what they have. Instead, it might be SMART to start realizing that our well-being and peace of mind starts within. That is probably the only way we'll discover we have more than enough just as we are, right now.

Kathy Gottberg believes in living healthy, authentic, fearless and SMART. This post originally appeared on her blog with a number of related comments. For other similar topics go to SMART Living 365.