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The Fulfillment Curve – How Much is Enough?

How much is enough? It is a question we can all ask ourselves, especially when it comes to consumption. The greatest joy in life comes from creating versus consuming.

When we are creating, we are most fulfilled. Whereas consuming is like any addiction – we get a momentary shot of pleasure, followed by a crash, followed by the desire for more, followed by a crash, followed by a gripping addiction…

The beautiful thing is that creating is always available to us. We can create from nothing, or very little.

A Little Boy’s Toy

I remember about 2 years ago we saw a little child in Kenya playing on a dirt road with what I thought was a pull toy (perhaps a discarded Mattel toy from the West). As I got closer, I could see that it was a little truck, and on closer glance that it was entirely handmade!

The body was cut out from a plastic bleach bottle, the axles were re-fashioned from a coat hanger, the wheels were bottle caps, there was a pole and on it little fruits he attached, stones were inside, and he was pulling it with a discarded nylon!

He was so – rightly – proud of what he had built.

I would assert that this boy was much happier, more fulfilled, than a child who just receives a toy, plays with it for a while and then in boredom wants another.

The Fulfillment Curve

Joe Dominguez who co-wrote a book called, “Your Money or Your Life” was a New York financier who became very unhappy living inside the consumption cycle of work hard, spend, and then work harder for more.

He gave it all up to learn how to live on less and be happier.

A Chart in his book really changed my life, and I never forgot it. My wife and I use it as a test all the time to help guide decisions in buying things.

On the vertical axis is “fulfillment”, on the horizontal axis is “money spent”. Initially, as you can see from the steep upward curve that there is a lot of fulfillment up to “survival”, and it continues up further to “comforts”.

So, what is this telling us?

It is telling us that if we are starving, with nothing to eat and no shelter, the money we spend on basics really does fulfill us. We need to eat, and we need clothing and shelter, clearly.

The curve starts to taper off – slightly – as we gain some comforts. So, fulfillment is continuing to rise. This may come from having, say a car, or a coffee machine.

To test this, go back in your mind to when you had your very first apartment, maybe out of high school, or after College. It may have been a studio or small 1 bedroom, yet, it was your very own, and it felt great!

Or how about your first old beater when you were 17!

Fulfilling, wasn’t it?

When the Curve Tips to The Other Side

Take a look at the Fulfillment Chart and see how it starts to go down.

What is causing this?

It is happening because – for all of us – at some point, the next purchase brings less fulfillment.

How is that possible?

It goes something like this…

You are living a comfortable life, you have a family, a good business, and all your family’s needs are taken care of. You can send your kids to the best schools and so on.

Then, you decide to buy a bigger, fancier house. You sell your lovely, smaller home and take out a mortgage.

The mortgage is a monthly fixed expense and so you need more income, so you grow your business.

The economy is down and that is stressful, so you end up putting more hours in at work.

You see your family less, and even miss family dinners from working late.

You get the idea…

A Multi-Millionaire’s Greatest Joy

Growing up in Calgary, two of my best friends, identical twins, came from an entrepreneurial family and their father was very successful. In fact, the chain of mega-building supply stores became so successful that when they cashed out the family was richer by hundreds of millions of dollars.

What I remember brought the greatest joy to the father was spending weekends, all their holidays, and as many blocks of time as he could in a little cabin just outside Calgary at Bragg Creek.

The cabin had no indoor plumbing (just a pump out back) and, yet he loved being there!

He loved chopping wood and living a simple life.

The Money Workshop Exercise

In a Money Workshop we created 10 years ago we designed an exercise (I have written about this before) that had people go out as a group with a very small amount of money and make sure everyone got fed well.

The creativity of the different groups was mind-blowing. One group convinced a restaurant manager to bus tables and they got so much free food they had to box it up and gave the excess to street people.

They were bubbling over with joy when they returned to the workshop after lunch!

They got to experience – to their very bones – the difference between consuming and creating, and also, how little it takes to fulfill us.

The Millionaire Who Lost It All and Then Gained It All

I read a story years ago about a man – a Canadian – who lost it all. It was a public company and he was very rich. His entire personal fortune was, though, tied up in the shares of the public company. When the company tanked, he lost everything, even his principle residence.

So, what did he do?

He was quite a bit older (early 70s as I remember).

He started a small business at home in wood working and furniture building.

What I always remember from the article I read about him was that getting a $5,000 contract to build a beautiful piece of furniture gave as much, if not more, fulfillment and satisfaction than when he was a high roller, closing multi-million dollar contracts!

Hmmm, very interesting…

What Are Your Values?

We each must know what we value and move away from one of the biggest killers of creativity and fulfillment – comparison.

Comparing to our business associates and friends, who may have more, is what can drive many to fight to achieve more, in order to consume more.

And, for what?

So that you can feel like you are keeping up?

How really fulfilling is that?

If You Had 6 Months to Live?

A little exercise to determine what you really value most can emerge from answering the question – what if I only had 6 months to live?

Where would I spend my time? What would I purchase?

You may want to spend more time with your family.

Thanks for reading…