Everyone at some point in time, and most likely, for extended periods of time, feels like they want more from life. Indeed, I only started the Ancient Wisdom Project because I felt (and still feel) that way. It’s natural. You would have to be a robot to say you haven’t felt a deep longing for something greater than what your life is now.
So, I was excited to see Ramit Sethi’s new blog post arrive in my inbox this morning. The title of the post is 2015: The Year of More.
Now, Ramit has some high quality material on his site. His techniques and strategies for finding a new job are really excellent. In fact, I used his networking and interview techniques to get my current job.
If you’re looking to start a freelance business or get a new job, I think it’s hard to beat Ramit as an instructor.
However, philosophically, I’m beginning to disagree with him more and more.
Take his latest post for example. He starts off with a story about his childhood and how his frugal parents would take the family of 6 on a vacation. To save money, they would book a room for two at a cheap motel, sneak the 4 kids in, and then just order extra towels and cots so everyone could sleep and shower.
That’s pretty hilarious.
I also liked that he concluded he had a great childhood.
Other things I remember growing up:
- We only ate out about once a month — when we had a coupon for the local pizza place
- When we were at that pizza place, we would only ask my parents for 2 quarters to play video games. Anything more than that was too much
- Our vacations were simple: road trips to visit our family in LA. That was it!
There weren’t extravagant meals or trips, but we all had a great childhood.
Basically, on a fairly minimalist lifestyle, him and his family were able to be happy.
The second section of the post describes how he became more worldly. Specifically, he writes about how he discovered the world of high-priced luxury goods and services.
As I really started to study this world, I discovered a ton of Invisible Scripts I never knew I had. For example, my first reaction to this world was to scoff and say, “WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY!”
- “Only snobs eat at expensive restaurants…I don’t need all that”
- “Ugh, I would never buy a $500 coat. That’s so superficial.”
- “Why would you pay someone to tell you how to decorate your apartment? Just get things you like.”
And yet, people DID pay money for these things. A lot.
Guess what? They’re not all snobs or elitist asses. I learned there are reasons OTHER THAN THE ACTUAL FOOD to go to a nice restaurant. I started to learn how the bizarre worlds of fashion and art work. Mostly, I learned how much I still had to learn.
So he’s astounded that people would pay for things he previously thought were dumb or wasteful. He is also…interested.
He then describes a few insights he picked up. People that spend money aren’t stupid, the hedonic treadmill is real, and you are vulnerable to the same desire for luxury as the rich.
Guess what? It’s normal to want more and more out of life. In fact, you want more now than you wanted 10 years ago, and 10 years from now, you’ll want even more.
This is a truth that seems so obvious, yet is rarely acknowledged.
Great. I agree.
But then he makes the conclusion that it is okay to want more, and that our goal should be continue to fulfilling our desires, regardless of how superficial it is.
You have permission to want more.
Not just more money. More fun, more success, MORE
…I’m staking a claim on demanding MORE instead of LESS. If your focus is on cutting back, this site probably isn’t right for you.
But if you want more — more travel, more success, more opportunities, more fun — I can help.
Ramit is doubling down on adding positive pleasures to your life, rather than subtracting negatives. He advocates a few negative strategies like eliminating debt and dissociating yourself from toxic people. But his hook is that you can fulfill all your existing positive desires and that is what will finally make you happy.
Let’s face it: his pitch is attractive.
What seems more interesting to you: taking a job and living frugally for 10-15 years and saving 50% or more of your money and then retiring? Or building a business or getting a job that makes you hundred of thousands of dollars and lets you have a sweet luxury apartment and take awesome vacations?
Duh, it’s the latter.
But the problem is not between minimalist living and luxury living. It’s more fundamental than that.
I think what we truly want is to live a deeper, more meaningful life. This is not synonymous with happiness. The meaningful life may lead to extended periods of unhappiness.
And I think Ramit knows this. He knows that spending time with his family contributes greatly to what he calls a rich life. Having a shit-ton of money just makes that a little easier.
I just worry that his readers are going to become overly focused on trivial desires. Ramit is big on not feeling guilty about your superficial desires. But I think guilt is an underrated feeling. Guilt is often your brain’s way of saying “hey dummy, maybe you shouldn’t have done that.” Guilt can prevent you from making bad decisions.
So when Ramit says that you shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting more, that you should embrace wanting more, I fear that he is eliminating an important warning system that will help people make better decisions. There is a reason thousands of year of religious and philosophical teachings rail against excessive worldly ambition and the fanatic pursuit of wealth: they are distractions.
Again, I’m not against trying to improve your material circumstances; I think that can be a spiritual experience in its own right.
However, the better approach to “wanting more” can be found in Epicurus’ teachings about desire and the good life.
Some desires are (1) natural and necessary, others (2) natural but not necessary, still others (3) neither natural nor necessary but generated by senseless whims. – Epicurus
Attempting to satisfy desires that are “natural and necessary” should be our primary focus. Everything else is likely to lead to chronic dissatisfaction.
*Note, Ramit is not the anti-Epicurus, and in fact, has adopted several very Epicurean principles. For example, Conscious Spending is something Epicurus would agree to, except Epicurus would just be far more strict about it.