You can easily have all you want by not wanting much [I wrote in this space in 1996]. You can’t possibly have all you want by making more money.
And isn’t ‘want’ the most intriguing word? It means lack (‘For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost’ – George Herbert, 1651) and it means wish for – which are so often one in the same.
But we don’t want (wish for) the things we don’t know we want (lack) – hence the importance of advertising and the scary power of ‘Dallas’ reruns in the Third World.
And ‘want’ is only sometimes synonymous with ‘need.’ Sure, for lack of a nail – but how about for lack of a Sea-Doo?
The miraculous thing about this country is that almost everybody has food, clothing, shelter, and extraordinary devices undreamed of until a moment ago in human history: radios, telephones, color televisions, cars, radios in their cars – even enough dough to fly across the country once a year, if they plan ahead and stay over a Saturday. I speak here not just of the great middle class. This list pertains to most (sadly not all) lower-income Americans as well.
I consider myself blessed that, in material terms, I don’t want (lack) anything, and don’t even really want much. (My friends will tell you this is just a lack of taste. They marvel at my satisfaction with mid-priced cars and mail-order clothes.)
How might you become similarly blessed? Well, maybe you already are. Or maybe you will decide that not having to strive for stuff you don’t need is the greatest luxury of all.
That’s the Thanksgiving comment I ran in 1996. (Surely you remember it?) One of you, Erik Sten, responded with a message I saved and ran the following year:
I just forwarded your Thanksgiving comment to a friend who has been amazed that I’ve gotten along just fine without having a real job for about ten years. He and others have suggested that I do a book on living within one’s means. My response is that I know how to do it and anyone else can do the same but he or she must want, more accurately, desire, to do it. That I do not have a clue how to teach.
I’m a graduate of Yale Law School and spent many years in public service doing consumer protection work. I was effective enough to get myself fired from two positions because my bosses felt I was too aggressive for their political tastes. My philosophy was there is simply no justification for any degree of deception in the promotion of sales. It’s not fair to either the consumer or the honest competitor.
Shortly after I left my last professional position, I got my kids through college. I was divorced and realized I had nobody to please, satisfy or impress other than myself. I maintain myself through a few modest investments and the odd project, and I am satisfied or I’d be living differently.
I am blessed.
My younger son teaches in an alternative high school and is doing a marvelous job. He’s attended the funerals of several of his students who have died by guns. I couldn’t do it and am amazed anybody can do what he can. I couldn’t be prouder.
My other son was just elected to the Portland City Council. It’s only a five-person council so it’s quite an achievement for a 29-year-old. He won by better than a 3 to 2 margin after running a positive campaign that was noted for the large number of enthusiastic volunteer workers. He is a Generation Xer who will make an impact; you’ll be hearing more about him. I am fearful for the long-term impact of political pressures on his ideals, but I know that if we cannot encourage our best and brightest to be our leaders, then we’re in big trouble.
Maybe Erik is still reading and will give us an update.
In 2000, I discovered color:
Happy Thanksgiving! [I wrote.]
And I see now, in looking back on these, that I made a note to myself to include the following for 2001 – but never did:
‘It wasn’t easy telling my parents that I’m gay. I told them at Thanksgiving. I said, ‘Mom, would you please pass the gravy to a homosexual?’ She passed it to my father. A terrible scene followed.’ — Bob Smith
(I’m pretty sure I got that from a book or magazine, but mislaid the citation. Sorry, Bob.)
In most of the past few years I just went back to:
2002 – Happy Thanksgiving!
2003 – Happy Thanksgiving!
2004 – Happy Thanksgiving!
This year, I feel as grateful as ever, even if the world seems darker than it did in 1996. Indeed, the rougher things get – tsunami victims, hurricane victims, earthquake victims, terror victims, genocide victims; and, on a totally different plane, but still distressing, lay-off victims, tougher-bankruptcy-law victims, higher-home-heating-cost victims, and all the rest – the more grateful for (and, yes, vaguely embarrassed by) my good fortune I feel (that odd liberal guilt over a tax cut on investment income I did not need).
Writing about any of this (at least the way I do it) quickly gets maudlin or preachy (or icky or just boring), so suffice it to say that one of the things I give thanks for is my terrific readership. (Oh my God, you’re blushing!)
2005 – Happy Thanksgiving!
See you Monday.
Quote of the Day
Guys, just remember: if you get real lucky, if you make a lot of money, if you go out and buy a lot of stuff, it's gonna break. You got your biggest, fanciest mansion in the world. It has air conditioning. It has a pool. Just think of all the pumps that are going to go out. Or go to a yacht basin any place in the world. Nobody is smiling and I'll tell you why: something broke that morning. The generator's out, the microwave oven doesn't work, the cook's gay. Things just don't mean happiness.~Ross Perot to Harvard B-School students, quoted in Forbes
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