I still remember one of the most fascinating things about one of my psychology courses was learning about something called "diminishing returns."
The way my psychology professor put it, after a certain point, money doesn't make you any happier.
There are benchmark levels of the amount you need, and that amount can vary depending on where you live and your situation, but once you go above your benchmark level, any extra money you have is simply extra and not making you any happier.
This kind of blew my mind. Basically, this theory asserts that families making $80,000 are no less happy than families earning 1 million a year. And yet how many of those $80,000 a year famiies are working hard trying to get themselves to $100,000 a year, $200,000, $500,000?
As an adult, I have recently felt the effects of diminishing returns in my own life. I have lived with very little, with a moderate amount, and with a higher income. When I had very little (in college living on frozen corn dogs), it mattered. I felt a stress and sadness that affected my day to day life. When I had a moderate amount, I was good, but I wanted more. I definitely wanted more.
Then I got more, and thought life was going to get better. But it didn't really.
The "more" came in the form of a more stressful job with longer hours and less freedom.
It came with investments in things like a cars and a condo that ended up causing me stress and anxiety every time they would break or malfunction. And it came with that same voice in the back of my head pushing me to want more, still.
One day I was sending out one client proposal after another, thinking to myself, "If I can just get to that next level, I can stop worrying."
As soon as I thought it, I was reminded of diminishing returns. I knew then that I had reached that point, and that my desire for more was not going to lead me anywhere.
Breaking my back to move up to that elusive next level was turning into running on a treadmill that was exhausting me for no reason.
I put the computer away, and went for a walk. That day, I decided to be grateful for where I was in life, and to find a productive way to make use of any "extra" money that came my way. I decided to plan out how much work I needed a year to fill my needs, and then to work only up until that point.
Progress for the sake of progress in my professional life no longer felt like an urgent necessity. Finding peace with the inherent instability of life and money became my new focus, along with figuring out how I wanted to spend my money in more socially conscious ways, and making more time for my family.
It worked. My returns have been all but diminishing ever since.