Simple Prosperity on Enjoying The Present

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Another quote I like from the book Simple Prosperity:

“The modern mind,” writes Wendell Berry, “longs for the Future as the medieval mind longed for Heaven.” Berry argues that we’ve been conned into believing that the present is something we need to escape because it’s just not good enough. We can’t be here now because we don’t yet have enough money, enough gadgets, or a large enough house. We’re not yet powerful enough or “happy” enough to live in the present. The truth is, if we’re satisfied with what we have in the present, we’re less likely to be obedient consumers, so the supply-side of the economy has invested trillions to engineer dissatisfaction into our shell-shocked psyches. Leisure, love, and laughter can be best had in the future, we begin to believe, but we can’t put our fingers on where that disturbing idea came from.

Am I satisfied with the present? No, because I still have to wake up and work every day. 🙂 But I also make it a point to do activities that I love every day as well so I’m not just looking forward all the time. I’m still working on goals, but now a big part of that is figuring out what is “enough”.

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  1. You know I find this to be very true, as I catch myself thinking like this all the time. I am sure it is an unintended effect of living in modern times; We feel that major advances in such areas as technology, entertainment, and medicine are perpetually attainable in the very near future. The future holds so much promise for our quality of life, so naturally we feel dragged down by having to live in the present when we feel that we are constantly on the precipice of such improvements.

  2. Thanks for this, Jonathan. I’m always on to the next thing and not appreciative enough of what I have. I should be more grateful for what I have now.

  3. I’m not sure if the root of our unhappiness or discontentment stems from external socialization that stresses material pursuit, although that is probably true to some degree.

    I think more often than not, we are very bad predictors of what would make us happy, thus whether it’s looking into the future, looking into the past and regret the path not taken, or looking up the list of should-haves that the world is always ready to give us.

    Have you seen this video of Dan Gilbert at TED? It’s pretty interesting.

  4. simplesimon says

    I suspect that “Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life. by John C. Bogle” is on your to-read list. That will help you get closer to figuring out what is “enough” for yourself. Happy reading!

  5. I agree with the paragraph, I too find myself thinking that my quality of life will be better in the future and that is what I keep saving for. The true balance in life is being able to enjoy the present while still being able to save for a bright future. Usually, if you have money then you have problems that money can’t solve & if you don’t have money then you have problems that money would solve. I think this goes along with the 5 year goal discussion.

  6. The main quesiton is not about doing more things that you like. The main question is can you be present at all time, including the times when you are doing what you may not like but that which you must.

    Can we stay in the moment and simply do?

  7. Wow, what an excellent subject, Jonathan. When I was a child, I dreamed of a prince charming. When I was a young woman I dreamed of a huge house with maids. Then I went through a time in my life (called divorce) that made me become grateful for so many of the things I had already taken for granted.

    I wonder if we can ever be truly happy. I am now married to “the one”, and own a home free and clear. We have some credit card debt with 0% interest because of the rewards. Now I fantasize about when I pay off our credit cards (which we have the money to do, but are waiting until they are due) and then save most of our income. It seems I can never be happy with this moment.

    I have settled…no, been happy without the mansion I used to see myself in. But it seems that I always have to find something to be happier about tomorrow instead of today.

    I think we all need to WATCH MORE OPRAH. 🙂

  8. Eckhart Tolle

  9. reading some quotes here, it’s materialism at its finest. Americans demand so much (I’m an American too). No wonder suicide and depression is highest here.

  10. Over the Cubicle Wall says

    I am going to check this book out. Thanks for blogging about it.

  11. financePHI says

    Awesome post! I find that as we try to learn about saving and investing, we tend to believe that it will take us to a greater place once we achieve a certain net worth.

    It’s important to take a step back and realize that we may have it pretty good in the present (well, compared to some other parts of the world).

  12. So true. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the “American Dream.” I’m not even sure what that is anymore. We’re still the wealthiest people on earth, with little chance of war, disease, or famine. Work hard, enjoy time your family and stop worrying about that 50″ television!

  13. Interesting video of Dan Gilbert. Last part was like Paradox of Choice. I would agree that we overrate the ability of most things to make us either much happier or much sadder. Is financial independence one of those things?

    Yes, I do want to read Enough by Bogle. Eckhart Tolle sounds like an interesting read as well, but more on a spiritual level.

  14. Over the Cubicle Wall says


    re: is financial independence one of those things that is overrated on the happy/sad making ability? For me, probably, and I have thought about it a lot. I tend to enjoy the pursuit and anticipation of a goal more than the payoff. So, I’ll still keep pursuing it, but if and when I get there, I will need to go after something else.

  15. I read a definition of happiness once that I have referred to again and again in my life.

    “Happiness is simply having something to look forward to.”

    While it is true you should live for the present, there is something to be said for having something you are looking forward to. How often after going on a vacation, or meeting some goal do we come back to earth and feel let down because we have nothing to look forward to on the horizon.

    Live for the present, sure… But have something to look forward to or you’ll go crazy.

  16. To facilitate living in the moment, I recommend getting rid of your cell phone. If you have a cell phone, you are never alone and never, by definition, have a moment to yourself. And for God’s sake, don’t Twitter!

  17. It is not that “man” in the mankind sense longs to escape the present because it is not good enough, it is because human being were created for another reality–and that reality is an eternal relationship with their creator-God. What we try to do is stuff our need for God (As St. Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee (God) or as Pascal so helpfully put it–there is a God-Shaped vacuum in the heart of every person) with the stuff of this world. Stuff, whether in the present or a longed for future can’t fulfill the longing of the human heart. Contentment can only be found in connection with the divine purpose of our lives–to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. What a wonderful invitation from God is found in Isaiah 55 when he says “come and buy–without money–what I have for you.” Medieval man longed for heaven not to escape the reality of the present, but to realize that better reality of God in eternity.

  18. Just for fun, here is another definition of happiness:

    “Happiness isn’t having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.”

    I am finding that the art of living is the art of appreciating what I have now, what is around me now, who I am now. When I do that, I am happy now.

    And here’s another saying to go with the first:
    “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due.”

    So don’t worry, be happy 🙂

  19. @Jonathan, maybe there’s a fine line between financial independence, or security, and financial abundance. I think in pursuit of independence, we more often than not have our sight set on abundance. And the definition of abundance can be quite relative. Perhaps it’s in our pursuit of this more or less unattainable goal that we make ourselves less content than we can otherwise be.

    But then again, I’m sure that’s me simplifying our (undoubtedly) complex internal happiness compass.

  20. Good to see you (and we) can keep the big picture in mind, even as we scramble from one detail to the next.

    Keeping realistic expectations about what money can do for us (and how long it will take to get it) may not be fun, but it can save us a lot of grief.

  21. Btw, the mix of religious and financial ads getting served up on this page is hilarious. Maybe I should throw in some cats, pet food and other catnip terms to make it interesting.

  22. Lewis, glad you think religion and finance mixed are hilarious, but don’t disregard those of us who have a little more depth than you and know the connection. God blesses those who are diligent with their money, dude. If you never learn that, you are destined for financial failure, much less sadly bigger surprises to come for you.

    I’m sick and tired of people making fun of those who speak up for what’s real. This financial crisis is real, and so are all the different ways we have to deal with it. May God have mercy on your money.

  23. Ouch Rhonda.
    Actually, I am quite familiar with Christian teachings on money, they were quite foundational to my own fiscal probity and are probably a big reason I am reading a site like this at all.
    On the other hand I don’t believe that God’s will for me is to make me wealthy a la Prosperity Evangelism, because money is really not what’s important. And I find ads that slap on the label ‘christian’ to their make-money-at-home schemes deceptive and insulting. Make no mistake, some people want to use your faith to exploit you. It would be quite sickening if it weren’t so laughable transparent in this case.

  24. There is no satisfaction without a relationship with Christ.

  25. You know, we keep trying to find a separation between church and state, but if we are Americans, there’s not one. It’s either In God We Trust or we are as rotten as those who don’t believe that. I don’t understand how we got to be a nation who doubts that. Americans are supposed to be Christians…well at least that’s what I was taught a thousand years ago.

    This is a financial blog, and I will try to keep it as such, but I can’t disregard the impact that God has in our finances and our society. I expect that more of us will be turning to God as we have nothing else to turn to…sad that we couldn’t have done it sooner.

  26. Lewis, it doesn’t matter what corruption you see in religion. It matters what you do with that information. I was a preacher’s daugher, and saw first hand some of the people who were corrupted. Being a man of God doesn’t make you invinsible…it makes you human.

    I won’t go into details, but the only person you have to answer to is God, not the men who were stupid and wrong. When you talk to God and tell him that those guys screwed you up, He’s not going to hear you, because you were supposed to be listening to him.

    You show your weakness by listening to man.

  27. Allow me to entertain you with my tale of woe. I’ve been a CPA modestly working professionally for 23 years after college although I’ve always had a job since 11.

    This time last year I had accumulated at least $600k in savings, no easy feat with a family of 4 in overtaxed / overcharged greater NYC. Basically scrimped and saved, a modest home, used furniture, minivan/cars driven for 15 plus years to their death, very modest vacations (basically camping), rare dining out, etc. We lived in rented 4 room cottage until the oldest was 7. Anything extravagant was solely for the benefit of the kids such as travel hockey, bikes and camps.

    A year later, my investments have lost 80% of their value and I’ve taken on $600k in debt to fund a new business that will take a while to generate profits, assuming that it survives in this economy since the product isn’t exactly a household necessity like food or fuel.

    So now the kids are near college age and I’ve really been wondering lately if I haven’t screwed myself by living and spending in the moment and fully enjoying a material life like many of my friends.

    I’d been in the same net position anyway. Could have had a great time blowing 1/2 million dollars instead of watching it evaporate.

    Food for thought.

  28. CORRECTION, I’m sorry, the above “I’ve taken on $600k in debt” should be “$200k”. I’d shoot myself if that was the case!! Sorry again.

  29. Joshua, you must have been very aggressively invested. I’m down about 45% in my stock investments. With my portfolio (broad market) I was aware I was taking a certain amount of risk. To have lost 80% you must have been very badly diversified, and taking much more risk, which must have worked to get you up to 600k, but I’m almost certain most of your investment losses were investment gains, which I’m not sure eases the blow for you, but it does for me. (By that I mean, I earned X, and invested it until it was 2X, and now with the market cut in half I have X again. It’s only mildly depressing to think of it that way.)

  30. Chuck, for sure, I was over invested in stocks, definitely my fault.

    But a fairly diversified portfolio and one large stinker in Sirius XM. And only about 100k came from gains when I actively traded for two years on a regular basis – the rest was 20 years of hard earned, saved cash and some regular stock payroll contributions.

    I got too pumped up watching Mad Money and CNBC, then when I got tired of it and didn’t have the time to watch the investments around the clock, I got hammered. Cramer is right about one thing, buy and hold just doesn’t work for the common man.

    I blame only myself…

  31. Joshua,
    Your story touches me. I am not exactly there (although we lost at least 30%), but it’s like I tell my husband…they said that some banks were too big to fail. They are saying that the Dow can’t go to zero. I am wondering now. What if it does?

    Can we really trust our financial system anymore?

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