Financial Freedom At 92 Years Old: Desire & Contentment

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.

Thanksgiving

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.


 

24 comments on “Financial Freedom At 92 Years Old: Desire & Contentment

  1. Wonderful post, Ruth. It only takes a quick read of the daily news to figure out that we all have much to be thankful for and content about. Your mom is an inspiration. She reminds me so much of my mom. Just thankful for all that they have, even though by today’s standards many would think it’s not much.

    1. I have a neighbour who, when her daughter asked if they could go camping, answered, “We don’t have to camp. We’re not poor.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that, but I’m very happy to stick with camping – even though, as you say, “many would think it’s not much.”

  2. I love your graph on desire and contentment. Very well said–it’s not a lack of desire that we strive for, but being content in the moment while being open to change and growth. This is absolutely the way to pursue financial freedom–the only way that will allow happiness along the way and when it’s reached.

    Beautiful story about your mother, and I hope her trip to Italy is wonderful!

    1. Thank you for inspiring this post, Kalie. I had never heard that definition of greed before, and it sheds a lot of light on the issue. I too hope that my mom has a wonderful trip. She’s frail but healthy, and it will be essential for her to maintain that health for the tip to happen. I’ll definitely write about it when the time comes : )

  3. Wonderful story. God bless your mom. 92 and making the trip to Italy, inspiring. We need to keep our lives in perspective, not only on Thanksgiving, but each and everyday. We need to remind ourselves of the wonderful things we have, and not focus on the thing we don’t.

    1. “We need to keep our lives in perspective” – very true. Doing without something for a season of life – even a long season – doesn’t mean we’ll never be able to enjoy it. It’s OK to leave some things for the future. I don’t know about you, but I lived for too long with the idea that I had to do/have it all NOW.

  4. “Greed is nothing to strive for – but neither is a complete absence of desire.” Very well said, my friend! Not wanting anything makes us robots without feelings. I think it’s so awesome your mom is going to Italy! I think I still do struggle with present-day contentment and this “future happy me.” I’m working on it!

    1. Thank you, Tonya : ) We are all works in progress – and clearly, you’re not the only one struggling with that contentment/desire balance. I agree with the “robot” bit – not tempting at all.

  5. “Greed is nothing to strive for – but neither is a complete absence of desire.” This! It’s a fine balance. I do believe we need some level of desire to move us forward, but it can be easy to let that desire take over. Gratitude helps me when I feel the greed creeping in.

    Your mom sounds awesome, Ruth! It’s so great that she is able to take the trip to Italy. Hope she has a wonderful time!

    1. I really hope she will be able to take this trip to Italy in another 10 months or so. Every month at this stage of the game is precious, and we don’t take anything for granted. Gratitude is the best help when greed “creeps in”. Thanks, Amanda : )

  6. Congrats to your mom for living a life of contentment and still managing to chase her dreams. That’s pretty awesome.

    I strive to be happy in the moment. I don’t always succeed. Thanks for the reminder not to let the daydreams of stuff and experiences steal the happiness of the moment.

    1. Thanks, Emily. I would like to work it so that thoughts of reaching goals or “daydreams” actually enhance the happiness of the moment. I wish the same for you.

  7. That’s amazing that your mom has her health and desire, even at age 92, to go do things she’s always wanted to do.

    I teeter-totter between desire and contentment and that’s ok. We can’t spend all our time on one side or the other, I don’t think. I’ve written something for tomorrow that’s exactly relevant to this, by coincidence, it’s so important to have balance and recognize how much we have when our lives could be far less rich and comfortable.

    1. Thank you, Revanche. “We can’t spend all our time on one side or the other,” – but I believe it’s possible to spend our time in both simultaneously. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. With your teeter-totter analogy – just at that point of balance – though no doubt dipping and rising on occasion as well. I’ll be interested to read your post tomorrow.

  8. Beautiful post and beautiful mom! She’s got spunk! I get the warm fuzzies just looking at that photo. I only have a few memories of my mom simply enjoying life but now that I see yours, I’m going to search and try to hold on to them.

  9. You know that’s a REALLY awesome example of contentment. I think that’s something that many millennials – and members of gen x – can only dream of. True contentment! I struggle with contentment. I look forward to the next thing and the day I will be able to (work for myself full-time, be out of debt, fill in the blank). I really need to get into the habit of enjoying my time in the here and now, regardless of my job, financial situation, or what the future *might* hold.

    1. I like your honesty, DC. I think Amanda has the right strategy in turning to gratitude when she finds herself getting “greedy” for future goal fulfillment. You are right in saying “what the future *might* hold” – because there really are no guarantees. I wish you all the best in finding that contentment now.

  10. This is an absolutely amazing story. I think the contentment comes from just knowing that you’re in a certain phase in life and things are unfolding accordingly. Of course, it would be nice to be able to go on more trips right now, but I’m not sad about the fact that I can’t go. I work and I have kids who are still small. I’m not missing out on anything, nor am I longing for something that I believe should be going on. I’m just living in a season of life nd I want it to be well lived.

    1. If you live this season of life well, Latoya, your future self will be so grateful to you! Working, raising kids, and doing blog work? You are Superwoman! I hope you’re managing to take care of yourself in the midst of it all. Your future self will be grateful for that too : )

    1. You’re not alone in that struggle, Amy! I think that catching yourself in the moment of discontent and choosing a better perspective is key.

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