On a Personal Note: "It is Wealth to be Content"

July 10, 2014

by Doug Short

Last month the Advisor Perspectives newsletter featured an interesting article by best-selling author Dan Solin on The Sad State of Happiness. Dan opened the article with some compelling observations:

"I have never met anyone who did not want to be happy. Yet few of us take concrete steps toward that goal. Part of the problem is that too many of us confuse happiness with increased wealth."

His article prompted a series of comments in APViewpoint, our discussion forum for financial advisors. I was particularly struck by a comment from financial guru Larry Swedroe:

Couple of things, first my reading of the literature is that the level of income where there is no change in happiness for the US is about $70k. Once above that makes no difference. Now of course you need more in NYC than in say Hope Arkansas.

Second thing is one of my favorite sayings is the "To know you have enough is to be rich" from the Tao Te Ching.

Larry's response instantly resonated with me, primarily because of his reference to Section 33 of the Tao. About a decade ago I began studying this profound philosophical foundation of Taoism. I've read over a dozen translations (which can vary dramatically in their interpretation of this work ascribed to 6th century BC Chinese philosopher Laozi).

In 2007 (to judge from the date stamp in a Word backup file) I put together a collection of translations of Section 33. Here are a few of the renderings of the line Larry referenced:

  • He who knows he has enough is rich.
  • If you have only what you need, you have true wealth.
  • He who is satisfied with his lot is rich.
  • If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.
  • If you have only what you need, you have true wealth.
  • Who is contented has wealth.
  • If you know how to be satisfied you are rich.

  • Here is a link to my collection of translations of the complete Section 33. As evidence of how strongly the line Larry referenced has resonated with me, note that the red highlighting in this uploaded Word document is in my original.

    I'll close this personal note without touching on the topic I intended to address when I began typing this commentary, namely, some expansion on Larry's remark about the $70K knee-of-the-curve for happiness. I'll save that for a follow-up.

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