I recently shared a video from “Daily_stoic” talking about the concept of “enough” – this post is building on this idea.
Today, we have access to immense computing power in our pockets, we have self-driving cars, and we are seeing deliveries being made by autonomous drones. Just 50 years ago, this sort of technology would have been solely confined to science fiction novels. Even if you are an average person living an average life anywhere in the West or in many emerging countries, you probably have a roof over your head, and you have enough to eat. You likely have a PC, tablet, or smartphone, along with internet access, to be able to read this.
The odds are, you’re reading this post because you’re part of the #watchfam – and as such, you have some disposable income to spend on mechanical watches which, we agree, are not essential to your survival at all. Indeed, many of the watches you might own, are worth enough money to feed a hungry homeless kid for a year.
Yet, are you content?
Often, we are not. Things don’t go our way. Someone is ‘plotting against us’. We really need this upcoming job promotion. We don’t have enough. We need a better car, a better house, a better job, to live in a better neighbourhood, or even… better weather. Our reasons for our discontent are limitless.
As Marcus Aurelius once said… you need very few things to be happy. A big house or a small one, a luxurious car or a simple one, expensive clothes or designer ones… these things all serve their basic purposes equally well.
The thing is, most of the time we aren’t unhappy because we have too little; rather, it is because someone else has more. I once discussed a study where people were surveyed, and asked about a certain level of pay they would be happy with… they chose a certain level which they would be happy with, but became unhappy when they learned that a colleague had settled on a higher number; which makes sense, but is totally irrational, since they were happy when they didn’t know that information! We may have everything we always wanted, and be perfectly happy with what we have… and then we come across someone who has more, and suddenly, what made us happy yesterday, makes us unhappy today. Yet, nothing has really changed.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.Epicurius
The truth is, we don’t pay attention to what we have. Instead, we ignore all the good things we have, and waste our time longing for things we don’t have. This often comes about because we confuse what we need, with what we want; in fact I covered a similar topic before. You probably have most of the things you hoped for when you were young… and as the stoic video I shared goes on to explain… If you are still not happy, it is likely because your desires are a moving target. Every time you get near the finish line, it moves further away!
Natural desires are limited, but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits. When you are traveling on a road, there must be an end; but when astray, your wanderings are limitless.
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 16
Desire for more stuff is very much like freedom in this sense. Your desires seem attractive before you achieve them but lose their attraction once you do. With freedom… Societally and individually, we struggle for it, even fight for it, but when we get it, we often find we don’t like it all that much. As freedom increases, so do feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and insignificance.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.Epictetus
A high school graduate might go straight to medical school. Parents might decide to have another kid as soon as their current is out of nappies. A young person might decide to start seriously dating again right after ending a long-term relationship. These moves might be the right ones, but under the anxiety of freedom, such decisions can simply swap one set of problems for another, Law school ends; babies grow up; another relationship dissolves. And you’re right back where you started.
Does the student really want to get a degree, or are they unsettled by the idea of not returning to study something in an institution for the first time since they were a toddler?
Do the parents really want another kid, or do they miss the urgent sense of purpose which comes with caring for a small human?
Does the newly-single want to be in a relationship with someone or have have they simply lost the ability to be alone?
As you might have guessed – the same sort of logic can be applied to watch collecting. Are you really buying another watch because you really like it and want to own it, or have you convinced yourself that this is a necessary part of being a watch collector? How often to you hear of people longing for a #NWA (new watch alert)? We all inherently know this is irrational and unnecessary, and perhaps its linked to the anxiety of having the freedom to buy a new watch – i.e. you’re not constrained.
The message is simple – When the freedom from constraints has you feeling lost and unsure of how to act, take a moment to appreciate your freedom to pursue a new aim. Rather than defaulting to something because you don’t know what else to do with yourself, choose a direction you truly want to go… if you find you have a spare 10 grand and are searching for a new watch to buy, consider your own goals. Are you interested in photography? Buy a new camera. Go on holiday. Invest in the stock market. You don’t need to buy a watch for the sake of a #NWA.
It takes strength to fight for freedom, and apparently it also takes strength to own it!