Consumption and the Fulfillment Curve
I was recently listening to a ChooseFI podcast that highlighted financial independence OG, Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life (reviewed admirably by Paula Pant). During the interview, I became fascinated her discussion of the "fulfillment curve", which is basically a graph created by Vicki and her co-author, Joe Dominguez, that maps the relationship of spending and happiness. The chart hones in on the law of diminishing returns past a certain level of consumption.
This concept (law of diminishing returns) is nothing new and it's a relatively easy to understand, yet most all of us fail in actively living by the underlying principles. Why is this the case?
Like all living things, humans are hard-wired with a survivor gene in our DNA. We need the basics to sustain life: food, water, and shelter. These items are mandatory. We also yearn for the comforts in life: a nice home, a reliable car, a good education, etc.
So what happens when all our needs and comforts are met? Do we sit back, relax and appreciate our current state of affairs? No. We still consume!
Our survivor gene subconscious overrides our conscious, telling us that we need to continue to consume and store in an effort to provide for future times when we might be without. More is always better, right?
Not quite. The problem is we live in an age of exaggerated abundance, meaning there are few times we are truly in situations of need. We continually consume well past our points of need, comfort and satisfaction.
This concept not only applies to spending and our finances, but applies to many other areas of life: work, food, relationships, hobbies, drinking, travel, etc. Once you get past a certain point of something feel-good in nature, enjoyment of said item starts diminishing.
So this has me thinking. What areas of my own life do I likely overconsume? What are my optimal points of satisfaction? When do I put rational thinking and actions aside simply because I am looking for an additional quick hit of perceived happiness?
At the heart of the fulfillment curve is the concept of life optimization and living intentionally, of which I am a huge fan. So in an effort to put this idea to action, I think it would be fun (and beneficial) to truly try to figure out where my "enough" is across various areas of my world. Theoretically, this practice should allow me to better hone in on optimal levels of consumption in an effort to boost my overall life (and financial) satisfaction.
Here are just a few areas of life that I think can be more optimally quantified with an "enough" value:
- Hours worked per day
- Minutes exercised per day
- Size of the wardrobe
- Discretionary money spent per month
- Time in the car (for both casual drives and longer road trips)
- Drinks consumed in a setting
- Living space (square footage) of the home
- Composition/quantity of each meal
At the very least, having this enough concept in front of mind should pave the way for more intelligent day-to-day decisions.
I've already started putting this idea to work and am witnessing some benefits. Instead of thinking primarily of the here-and-now, I find myself now thinking a bit more about the repercussions of an activity and/or purchase. Will I have some regret later, or will it put me in a diminished level of happiness? If so, it's time to move along and pocket that small life win, all-the-while helping to override that rather annoying subconscious push to consume.
Cheers to that :)
What is your "enough"? Are there areas of your world where you could trim some excess in an effort to either save money or improve your satisfaction? Likely so! These are important questions to ask ourselves so that we don't go on droning through life in a constant state of overspending and overconsumption.