In Ancient Rome, around 100 AD, there was a philosopher known as Pliny the Younger. One of dear Pliny’s famous quotes is “An Object in possession seldom retains the charm it had in pursuit”. Frankly this is one of my favorite quotes as it really speaks to two different aspects of my financial life and direction.
The Pursuit of Material Goods
On the one hand it speaks to the pursuit and purchase of material goods. There was a time before I understood my values and controlled my expenses according to them. During that time I use to spend money on sometimes stupid things. The one thing I always noticed is I always found them more enjoyable during the act of finding the best deal and researching the purchase then I did in actually owning. This speaks a lot to Pliny’s quote. The material almost hedonic pursuit or purchase of material goods is often much more fun then having those goods. This is why if you live that lifestyle there is always a want of more, because the item itself brings no pleasure. It is the pursuit of the item bringing you that rise of endorphins. Never mind that paying the bill later might bring a wave of fear instead of a high of anticipation.
Determining What you Value
Once you realize which items truly bring you pleasure and which only bring you pleasure during the pursuit you can better identify what you truly value. After all if you truly value it then the desire to have it will not fade after a few weeks of ownership. If the want does disappear then perhaps the want was from the pursuit. By categorizing those things that continue to bring you happiness you can begin to weed out the pretenders.
The Impact of Marketing on the Pursuit
This is doubly true in the world of mass marketing. In todays day marketers cannot only make you want something, they can make you think you need it. They tie the value of an item to one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the more basic the better. Never mind that in reality you probably do not really need the item and perhaps do not even want the item.
Take a new car. When was the last time you saw a car commercial featuring ugly people driving to the work in a traffic jam? That’s right, never. Why, because it wouldn’t sell. They need to sell it to your desire to improve your self image by hobnobbing with good looking people. They want to sell the car to its safety for your family. They might even want to sell it to you as a boulevard cruiser that attracts attention flaunting your self esteem. Never mind that most of your yearly driving time in a commuter car is likely spent in a traffic jam and you probably do not look like Cindy Crawford (ummm.. My wife looks better.. Thanks for proofreading this hun.). That wouldn’t be a basic need you identify with psychologically. They are playing up your pursuit but once you have the car you probably will realize it was more fun shopping for most cars then it was owning it. (This coming from a man with a Corvette he absolutely enjoys, but who has bought new cars in the past that ultimately left him cold).
The Pursuit of Goals
Outside of the hedonic treadmill I also think “An Object in possession seldom retains the charm it had in pursuit” applies well to goals. So many financial advisors talk about the pursuit of FIRE like early retirement is the end goal. But once you get there, then what? If your not retiring too something then you end up with the same issue with the hedonic treadmill. You might enjoy the chase of getting to Early retirement, but once you get there you might be quite unhappy with what you possess. This would be especially true if you have not thought beyond retirement. What’s next?
Perennial Pursuit is the Best Option
And thats really the point of Pliny’s quote. Ultimately we as humans are only truly happy when we are striving to better ourselves, to reach some goal. Early retirement is a fine goal, if it is one of many. But you need goals beyond early retirement. You need to retire to something. If not you’ll likely find that the pursuit had more charm then the possession. This is probably why people always seem to pass away not long after retirement. They retire as the destination, the end goal. After that goal they stop pursuing, enjoying, and really living. Don’t cut your life short by pursuing Early Retirement as your one goal. If you want Early Retirement then pursue it as a way point to bigger and better things. After all if your always in some sort of pursuit, then your life will always have some charm.
What are you pursuing? Do you find once you obtain something it loses it’s luster?