In the opening sketch of the highbrow 3d-animated tragicomedy morality play "Madame Blueberry", Larry the Cucumber lists out all of the cool new things he wants to buy.
Wizened philosopher Bob the Tomato asks, "Larry, how much stuff do you need to be happy?"
To which Larry replies, "I don't know.... How much stuff is there?"
Madame Blueberry is a sad berry who lives in a treehouse. She sees all of her neighbors' awesome stuff and is sad because she doesn't have the same awesome stuff. She's visited by shady door-to-door salesmen from the recently constructed "Stuff Mart" down the street, who promise all of her wildest dreams will come true if only she will go shopping. "All you need is lots... more... stuuuuuuuuff!" their catchy if not blatantly pandering sales jingle goes.
So Madame goes on a consumerist pilgrimage and proceeds to buy nearly everything in the store, having it delivered with same-day shipping, Amazon drone-style. Unfortunately the delivery drones don't seem to realize a treehouse can't handle being loaded with 1000 packages, and her treehouse's tree bends all the way down to the ground from the weight. After all of her stuff falls into the backyard pond out the back door, the tree becomes a giant catapult and flings her house across the countryside, crashing into a heaping pile.
Then sentimental words are spoken about the importance of being thankful and everyone eats pie.
I watched this cartoon when I was like 10. It actually has pretty solid slapstick humor even to me today. And I laughed at Madame Blueberry's insatiable lust for stuff. Also, where did she get all that money? You can't buy everything in the Stuff Mart!
Years later I've now realized that yes, there are people who can buy everything at the Stuff Mart. And no, they often aren't happy. I know people personally who already can. And many of them do buy everything in the Stuff Mart and many of them still aren't happy.
I've tasted a bit of this lifestyle. Christmas became just a little less magical when my own purchasing power surpassed my grandparents. And I've seen just enough of what it could be like to have more, that I have to ask my own dang self, "How much stuff do I need to be happy?" How much money, fame, power, prestige?
How large does my business need to get before it's profitable enough? What yearly wage is sufficient? If the mystical "shareholders" everyone keeps talking about are to be believed, no size is large enough. Growth at all costs, even if we fling this treehouse through the air and also into the ground!
Obviously you need some amount of money to live. That oft-quoted stat says you need about $70,000 a year before you start seeing diminishing returns on "add more money" to increase happiness. If you don't currently like your job, it might be worth optimizing the thing you spend most of your time on in life.
But especially if you own your own business, it's very possible to reach and surpass that $70,000 mark. And once you've solved the money problem, scaling the next steps of Maslow's Hierarchy become a lot fuzzier.
I spent a lot of my late teens and early twenties depressed to the point of having a mid-life crisis a few decades early. And, like any good nerd, I went on a reading binge to try and figure out what the deal was with "happiness."
There is a lot I want to write about on this topic, more than can fit in any single letter. But one of the simplest techniques I've found for increasing quality of life is simply taking time to reflect on the good things in life (ideally before your house is catapulted). Humans have a tendency to focus on what is going badly and forget about what's going well because of psychology and brains. And so a habit I'm working to build is starting the day listing a few things I'm grateful for.
Let's do it now!
Things David is grateful for today:
- I'm grateful for you, dear reader, that you have chosen to read this article.
- I'm grateful to all of you who have offered kind feedback on my writings.
- I'm grateful that even though I didn't make a whole lot of money in 2017, I learned a ton. 2018 is going to be a good year.