Diminishing marginal returns is something we learn about in Econ 101, but most of us don’t internalize what it means for our lives. The more you have of something, the less satisfaction or value you get from an additional serving of it. It goes like this: say I like hamburgers and I’m really hungry – like, starving-because-I’ve-only-eaten-carrot-sticks-for-three-days hungry. Depending on the size of the burger, the first one is going to be pretty fantastic, and the second one might even be a contender, but by the third burger, I am unlikely to be very thrilled, and I might even pay someone to take the fourth one away.
We all know this concept intuitively, and yet, I constantly hear folks talk about wanting to win the lottery, or worrying about what they don’t have and others do, and so far have never had a client who didn’t think more money would solve at least some of their problems. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do it, too. More and more, though, I am inclined to disagree that money is the cause of problems, much less the solution to them. Any goal that puts happiness into the nebulous “out there” of the future is suspect, because ultimately after we get there, we are satisfied for about 2 seconds, or a whole week, if we’re really lucky.
Here’s an article that discusses the idea of being rich, which always seems like the goal that trumps the rest, when considered from the position of not being rich. Who of us ever thinks we really have enough money? I think it’s a rare individual. Yet, all of the research tells us money beyond covering the basics doesn’t really bring happiness. I like to remind people financial goals are very often about what we think we’d feel like if we were rich, which is pretty damn hard to pin down. What we are actually after is the feeling of rich, not rich itself! If we’re not reasonably happy now, we won’t improve it much by winning the lottery. I do like hearing about the real people in the article who’ve had this experience. I think the real take-home message, though, is hidden in the middle of the article:
Life is more about doing, than having.
And if you think about it, it’s also not really about having “done” anything, either. “Doing” here refers to being engaged in living! And one must be present for life to be about the doing rather than the having. It’s difficult to maintain strong goals of having and still be present in the doing, because you’re worried about getting and losing. So there’s your case for mindfulness, straight from Econ 101. Before you protest about the homeless and starving, let me acknowledge here that the “having” goal “works” for awhile, but only usually until we hit around 60k per year. After that we just trade in the old problems for new ones.
I’ve been experimenting myself with trying to be present as much as possible, and being less obsessed with “getting” somewhere (wherever that is, I still don’t know!). I find, in the end, happiness is about giving up more and more of the need to plan and control, and going where life wants. For me, it’s become so much more interesting than trying to figure out what the hell I want and somehow devise a plan which I will have to continuously adapt in order to arrive, just to find out it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
I also often play a game where I ask myself, “what would it be like if I won the lottery?”. You know, like BIG money. I usually go through the whole list of what I would buy, then after I get bored with that, savor the feeling and try to walk around with the “rich” feeling all day. I won’t ruin the surprise for you…try it and see what happens!
And no, you don’t have to tell me that this flies in the face of much well-established thinking about self-improvement, management, and goal-setting. I am also not suggesting you throw out the baby with the bathwater and up and quit your job or abandon intentions to be healthier or more compassionate.
What I am suggesting is that in small ways, wherever you see an opportunity, you might experiment with letting go, and see what happens. That could look like you stop fighting the need to sleep or eat, let your kids make dinner without “helpful” comments, REALLY delegate something at work (you know who you are, you fake delegators), or maybe sit in a meeting where you listen instead of talking. If you’re really feelin’ froggy, then you could decide to let some space into a situation that really bugs you, totally allowing it to be whatever it is for say, a whole day, or even longer. Then sit back and watch the magic.
C’mon, I dare you. I double dare you. Yes – YOU! Then drop a comment and share the magic.