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Clio's Temple

When is it enough?

I once heard a story in which two well-known writers were invited to a party in The Hamptons, given by some ludicrously-wealthy Wall Street whiz kid. If memory serves, they were Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. As they toured the house and listened to the host brag about all the costly architectural details and furnishings, Kurt turned to Joseph and asked, "You wrote Catch-22. Why is this guy bragging about how successful he is?" Joseph said, "Unlike him, I know when I have enough."

Most of us have some level of intuitive understanding of human motivation, whether or not we believe in Maslow's hierarchy or some other theory of motivation. It seems to be a universal truth that we don't truly know when we have "enough." For 2015, government statistics give us a median U.S. household income of just over $ 55,000; whether such an income makes us feel "satisfied" is a question that can't be answered "Yes" or "No." In some less fortunate parts of this country, the median income would seem like a small fortune. Trying to live on the median income in Manhattan or Silicon Valley would most likely be a source of extreme discontent.

Of course, it isn't about just wealth. However, wealth or income is such a strong motivator that, probably, few of us would decline a monthly income twice what we make. At some point, if we've been successful enough, we may accumulate such wealth that it can immobilize us with the fear that it may go away. Alternatively, a certain level of affluence may just cause us to say, "I could be worth a lot more, if only . . ." My short story "Vulture Capitalist," in Tangled Woods and Dark Waters, looks at success from the standpoint of what can happen when we don't say, "This is enough." Perhaps we humans aren't quite as rational as we imagine.

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