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More is better. That rule dominates much of our lives. Too much, I think.

money crazy

The Tyranny of Quantity—Steve Hochstadt

Sometimes more is the only thing. The NBA players from Cleveland and Golden State are unbelievably skilled, unpredictable, and flamboyantly athletic. But all that matters is the final score, the quantities of points and games. Nobody will care about or remember the beautiful game played by the losers. Quantity is everything.

Many people seem to believe that money is like that, too. No matter how much you have, more would be better and more than that would be best. For most of the world’s people, a little bit more could make a big difference. Even in the wealthiest nations, there are always people who do not have enough for basic needs. Among those wealthiest countries, the US does particularly badly on any measure of how many poor people there are.

For the poor, as far upwards as they can see, more would be better. But is that true at any level, no matter how high? Is more money better for a millionaire, for a billionaire?

Happiness Cap

Researchers on the economics of happiness have recently concluded that more money leads to more happiness only up to an income of about $75,000 per year. After that, increases in income seem to make little difference in daily happiness.

That’s a devilishly difficult question to answer. It’s easy to measure money, but not happiness. Nevertheless, researchers on the economics of happiness have recently concluded that more money leads to more happiness only up to an income of about $75,000 per year. After that, increases in income seem to make little difference in daily happiness.

Some very rich people appear to be unhappy because of their money: a survey of people with over $25 million found that one quarter worry “constantly” about their financial situation. Too bad for them. The rich people whose lives are displayed on reality shows don’t seem especially happy, but happiness doesn’t make for riveting TV.

One startling bit of research found that money itself can make people less happy. People who were shown pictures of money and then given chocolate to eat enjoyed their snack less than those who had not seen the money. The psychologists surmised that the satisfactions to be gained from small pleasures, like chocolate, were lessened when people thought about what they could have if they had more money. A different study of lottery winners found that they got less enjoyment from mundane events. Don’t show me the money!

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Giving It Away

Other research shows that how much money may not be as important as what one does with money. Spending money on others, including just giving it away, creates more satisfaction than spending it on ourselves. If that’s true, the happiest people may be the middle class. Those with incomes around $50,000 give away about 4% to charity, while those making from $100,000 to $5 million a year give less than 3%.

Right now, as I slide into retirement, I’m thinking about time, more time. It’s almost always better to have more time, even though basketball announcers sometimes say, “He had too much time to think about that shot.” Not enough time usually translates into more stress. We all have confirmed the truth of the saying “haste makes waste”, because not enough time means hurried and incomplete work.

My retired friends all delight in saying that they seem just as busy as when they were working. How can that be? I believe the answer is that they continue to fill their days with accomplishment, but the nature of their work has changed. They now have more time to attend to things they want to do. They have more time to do those things properly.


I imagine more time will allow me to increase the quality of what I do – more thorough weeding in my gardens, more books that I really want to read, better cooking. I’ll spend more time with my friends without checking the clock. I won’t always be distracted by thoughts of what I am not doing that I should be doing.

I imagine waking up in the morning and deciding then what I will do, possibly rejecting the plans I made the night before. I imagine fewer deadlines and more pleasure in the moment.

Too much time could be a problem if there was too little to do. Lots of time but no money could mean less ability to do those things that can make life enjoyable.

steve hochstadt

I don’t want endless time or unlimited money. I want to savor life’s simple pleasures: a red flower in my garden, a good book, a bit of dark chocolate. I hope I have enough of each to enjoy each day without worrying too much about tomorrow. I’m hoping for quality, not quantity.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives