“To live as a poor man with lots of money”

I found a great quote the other day (attributed to Pablo Picasso, but who knows with the internet): “I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money.”

What this gets at is the problem of the hedonic treadmill. As our standard of living improves, the story goes, we become less able to experience joy in small pleasures. It’s not just a matter of multi-millionaires no longer getting excited by flying business class. All of us expect functioning toilets, clean water and sandwich bread that doesn’t involve a full day spent milling our own flour and then baking. But at relatively recent points in human history, all of these would have been cause for celebration.

That is what it is; we can be glad we take these things for granted. But in what ways could we try to live as poor men with money? How can one stay excited about little wins?

I don’t know if it’s possible. I have had fun, however, these past few days in my new and more rustic life, with seeing how my kids react to things that are just not part of their experience, and hence are worth celebrating. Sam, my toddler, has wanted to say “night night” to the new car and give it a kiss before going to bed. At bedtime, I talk with Jasper about what things made him happy during the day (which we can then be thankful for). He’s been happy about the flowers and trees for several days in a row. Imagine how awesome life would be if we could always be happy about flowers and trees.

How could you live as a poor man with lots of money?

5 thoughts on ““To live as a poor man with lots of money”

  1. Being recently divorced, I find happiness in many small things that weren’t options for me previously:
    sitting quietly on my sofa doing nothing at all except enjoying the peace and solitude of my new home; sweating in the hot sun to create a new perennial flower bed; walking barefoot across the lawn; sitting on the floor while 6 tiny kittens take turns climbing over my legs.

  2. I’ve been a historical reenactor for 15 years, and it has given me a surprising amount of insight into this very subject. Throughout much of history, people celebrated things that are given not one iota of notice today, and likewise, they seem to be happy with less and less. I am currently living and working on a French farm (that’s not very modern and lacks steady electricity and running water) while reading the memoir of a 19th century French farmer. In the book, the farmer talks about how when you don’t have much, you appreciate everything, and when you work really hard, you appreciate the breaks. My own experiences here in France have mirrored this.

    I think that part of the problem is that we as a society have become surrounded by so much that we no longer take enjoyment in any of it, and so we toil in vain to surround ourselves with more and more stuff in the hopes that some of it will bring us happiness.

    By the way, I just found your site, and it’s great!

    1. @Kelsey- thanks, glad you like the site! It is good to remind ourselves that we have basically won the lottery of human history by being born in the developed world in the last 70 years or so. Take the subject of hot showers. A few cold ones will remind you of how awesome hot water truly is. And imagine if nothing came out of the sinks or flushed the toilets at all! Running water itself is a huge win. And we completely, totally, take it for granted.

  3. That’s so amazing how children are not spoiled with things and they are not used to luxury of having everything. I am always amazed how my 2-year old gets SO excited when I bring him a bowl of pop-corn or chocolate covered raisins. I am thinking to myself, why am I not getting so excited when I pull out these same items for my snack at work. They are the same things, but I don’t remember to appreciate them. Kids teach us so many good things.

  4. Would be better to live simple though we have a lot of money. Money is nothing if you also not share it to the less fortunate ones.

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