Greed and expectation
Kalie from Pretend To Be Poor wrote a post last week that really struck me. In it, she takes a look at greed – a topic rarely discussed in personal finance blogs. “The Greek philosophers’ concept for greed was pleonexia, an over-desire. Inordinate desire. A wish or drive out of proportion with what the thing can deliver. An unhealthy appetite.”
As soon as I read those words, I knew I was guilty. There have been many times in my life when I have had “an over-desire” for something. Sometimes, that desire has been for a material thing. “I’ll be satisfied once we get our dream home.” At other times, it has been for an experience. “I’ll feel completely free once I travel.” In some cases, the inordinate desire has been for a relationship. “I’ll find happiness once I’m married.”
“A wish or drive out of proportion with what the thing can deliver.” I have definitely had the experience of wanting something too much – in anticipation of it delivering way more than it can offer in and of itself.
Contentment vs greed
That image up there is of my mother. It was taken during one of our family’s camping trips, and my best guess is that it was in the late 60s. At that time, she was a forty-something mother of five children, and this was as glamorous as “travel” got for her. I’m sure she wouldn’t have objected to a Caribbean cruise or a flight to Paris, but that kind of experience wasn’t in the cards for my parents until a later chapter of their lives.
Once they were in their mid-fifties, and I – their youngest – was far enough into my teens to be left home alone, the trips started. Spain. California. And then a bit later, with an option my dad had through his work, a year in England. And then three years in Tanzania. Followed by travel through Africa and in China. Once my dad retired, there were once-a-year trips of a few weeks each to different parts of the world, and my parents enjoyed them thoroughly.
But back in the child-rearing, camping years, my parents weren’t pining for the day when they would be able to afford international travel. They were satisfied with what they had. That’s a contented woman in the picture up there! Doing the dishes surrounded by beach toys, lawn chairs, and tents, she was not thinking, “I’ll be happy once I travel out of the country.” She already WAS happy.
Financial freedom at 92
After my dad passed away in 2007, Mom traveled less. She would fly out to visit family members, and once, she even joined a recently widowed friend on a cruise. But a few years ago, in her late 80s, she declared her traveling days to be over. “I always wanted to go to Italy,” I remember her saying a couple of times – not with any sadness, but as a fact.
Mom turned 92 this month, and she is still happy. Three of her children and a couple of grandchildren were able to take her out for breakfast on the big day, and she couldn’t have been more delighted. She remains free of greedy “over-desire” for what cannot deliver the contentment she already has.
But she has decided to go to Italy.
My sister who lives (in early retirement) with her husband on the west coast emailed the rest of us with the news the day after Mom’s birthday. “Hi everyone! Mom and I talked today about the possibility of our taking her to Italy next fall!!!! She told me it’s somewhere she always wanted to go and never did. I said we could do it if she liked and she was all over it!”
Desire and contentment
There’s a fine balance between desire and contentment, and I think my mom found it long ago. Greed is nothing to strive for – but neither is a complete absence of desire. Honest desire can co-exist with satisfaction. It can either be fulfilled or not be fulfilled without changing that essential, steady state of contentment.
On this day of Thanksgiving in the U.S. I hope that everyone in the personal finance bloggosphere finds that balance between desire – for debt-freedom or financial freedom – and contentment. I hope you are able to pursue your goal without “inordinate desire. A wish or drive out of proportion with what the thing can deliver.” Financial freedom won’t give you happiness if you don’t already have it – any more than a frugal, simple lifestyle can rob you of that same happiness.
I wish you the contentment of my mom in her 40s, doing the dishes at the family campsite – and of my mom at 92, planning her trip to Italy.
Do you find it hard to strike a balance between desire and contentment? Your comments are welcome.