How much money do you need to buy yourself happiness?

And the great thing is, it may not be as much as you think

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I have a secret for you. This secret will allow you to double your income in 18 months for only five more hours of work a week. Do you want to know it?

If you answered “yes”, I want to give you an opportunity to double down. Triple your income in 18 months for just 10 more hours a week!

Interested? At what point would you answer “No”? All of this points to one bigger question: how much is enough?

To be clear, I understand that for most, doubling your income would provide plenty of extra breathing room.

A lot of research suggests that money can buy you happiness. But only to a certain point. Beyond that point, it seems to make people sadder, more depressed and more anxious.

In my profession, I see parents who, in the race to move ahead in their careers, have left their children’s childhood behind.

I see people who have ruined their relationships because they were chasing something in the future, while not having time for their loved ones in the present.

Instead of fixating on getting ahead, what if we simply focused on having enough? How might that change your priorities? Your daily schedule?

Intentionally defining “how much money is enough?” is one of the most important decisions you can make financially. You may put a number to it, but, on a deeper level, the question’s qualitative nature is what makes it special.

It’s about getting clear about your values and goals. Try thinking about your money in terms of what you already have and the freedom it affords you. What makes people happy is buying time and choices.

Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive, once said: “The world is increasingly designed to depress us … happiness is not a very good thing for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”

Many of us believe money, success and stuff is what we need to live “happily”. So, we convince ourselves that we are always too poor to buy our freedom.

But this is what the world is designed to do; always create that fear and urgency for more, even when we have enough.

We make more money. Expectations and desires rise in tandem (known as hedonic adaptation), which results in no permanent gain in our happiness.

John Bogle, founder of investment adviser Vanguard, once recounted a story about the author Joseph Heller. At a party held by a super-rich money manager, a friend told Joseph that their host had made more in a single day than his most famous novel, Catch-22, had ever made.

If you can’t find a way to be satisfied with enough, you may never be satisfied with anything
Sam Instone, co-chief executive of wealth management company AES

To which Joseph replied: “I’ve got something he can never have.”

His friend asked: “What on earth could that be, Joe?”

And Joe said: “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

What might happen if you could shift perspectives? Would you work less? Would you spend less? Would you sleep more? Would you quit your job and start something new? Would you give more to charity?

Maybe nothing new would happen. But if you can’t find a way to be satisfied with enough, you may never be satisfied with anything.

There will always be someone else ahead of you. You don’t have to participate in a game that will constantly pit you against the competition (even if the competition is your future self).

You can opt for financial freedom instead. Combined with peace of mind, good health, loving relationships, worthy goals and ideas, and personal fulfilment — that should certainly be “enough”.

Having enough doesn’t mean we never crave more. We’re human, after all.

But I encourage you to take a step back when you find yourself wanting more and think about where that desire is based.

Is it an actual reflection of your values and your current reality? Or is it just the "more, more, more" monster knocking at the door again?

Sam Instone is co-chief executive of wealth management company AES

Updated: October 03, 2022, 7:38 AM