Baseline

I’ve had people tell me they could probably be happy making just a million dollars a year. Maybe two would be better, but they think they could get by on a million.

We tend to subconsciously establish baselines for ourselves, and the idea is that if we have more than that baseline we’ll be happy. If we have less, we’ll be unfulfilled.

The natural progression of that thought is: I’m not happy, so perhaps I was wrong about my baseline. Perhaps it needs to be higher. I’m not happy because I’m not earning enough.

We make this leap of logic because so many of the messages we receive on a daily basis feed the drive for more.

If you have more monetary resources, you will be more fulfilled. You’ll be happy like the people on this billboard, you’ll be a good person like the protagonist in this movie, you’ll be a noble individual like the hard-working CEO of this company. We’re presented with storylines that propagate the idea that more equals better. A higher baseline means you have higher, more worthy standards.

Having a lower baseline, though, means you can be happy with less. It means you’ve found satisfaction in yourself, in the simple things in life, and anything beyond that is an added bonus.

If your baseline is a million dollars, anything less than that is a catastrophe.

If your baseline is $20,000, anything above that is luxurious living. Your gateway to financial equilibrium is easier to access, and you can allow yourself to enjoy the benefits of earning more, rather than perceiving $40,000 or $100,000 or $800,000 as a failure, as beneath you.

I know folks who make very little money, and for whom that little bit is more than enough.

I also know people who make millions of dollars, but for whom that money is just a nice little bonus: they were already happy. They were already complete. Take that wealth away and they’re still having a blast. Add that wealth to such a person’s reality and they use it rationally, not as a life preserver, not as their only hope to maybe scavenge some happiness out of their day.

Rather than trying to raise our baselines, then, it’s often a good idea to focus on keeping our baselines low so that we don’t limit ourselves. To figure out how to be satisfied with little so that we might be even happier when we have a lot.

We set baselines for our professional status, our relationships, how and what we create, our real estate, our dietary habits, the technology we use, and the clothing we wear. Deciding that our happiness is tethered to owning the right kind of gadget or eating at the right restaurant is just as debilitating as deciding we need to make a million dollars to be fulfilled. It sets a baseline that we cannot dip below without being miserable.

Take the time to be happy, regardless of your circumstances.

Once you’ve got that, all of life’s pleasures, life’s wonderful additions, become icing on an already amazing cake.

Update: April 21, 2017

This mindset is what allows me to thoroughly enjoy whatever environment I find myself in. Even if things like WiFi and electricity aren’t reliably present, I still have a good time, and it’s because my baseline is set quite low for most things.

This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy luxuries, and it doesn’t mean my baseline isn’t higher for some things than others. But it does mean I try to find the good in whatever life hands me, because that means I spend a higher percentage of my time, the only time I’ll ever have on earth, as a happy person, rather than someone who’s regretting what he has now and hopes to someday acquire or achieve something that may make me happier.