Where Are You On The Fulfillment Curve? Part 1

Note: Part 2 of this article can be found here:
Where Are You On The Fulfillment Curve? Part 2


It’s often been said that money can’t buy happiness. I agree with that statement to a certain extent– I mean look at all the rich and famous people in our world who are absolute train wrecks! There are plenty of cases like those to make a convincing argument from. But I think that money can certainly provide a level of fulfillment in life, and that’s really what most of us are striving for.

Fulfillment is kind of a nebulous idea, and hard to put a fixed dollar amount on.  One person may feel fulfillment when they earn a certain income from a job they love. Another might be fulfilled by earning six figures. Others may say they are fulfilled when they have enough money to retire on, etc.

However, I believe that fulfillment is not provided by our money, but what we do with our money. Let me explain, using an illustration from the book Your Money or Your Life.

When We Were Very Young

As we were growing up we were just beginning to develop a sense of what money could do for us. You might have had a chore around the house that earned you a dollar or two. Or maybe you had a lemonade stand. Personally I had a blueberry stand one summer (when I was about 10), and between us my cousin and I earned a whopping $34 for selling blueberries for a week. A pittance, you might say.

But to us that $34 turned into a summer full of fun. We called the local hardware stores and found an eight foot wide by one hundred foot long piece of plastic tarp that we turned into the best slip ‘n slide you’ve ever seen in your life.

Think of this age as the extreme beginning of the fulfillment curve. It didn’t take a whole lot of money to provide a lot of fulfillment in our lives. But our minds were beginning to learn how this process worked. $1 was equal to, say, an ice cream cone, while $34 was equal to the best slip ‘n slide in the history of mankind. Or, put another way, more money = more fulfillment!

The Bare Necessities

SurvivalAs we got a little older we discovered the high price of independent living. Things like rent, cars, insurance, food, clothing, and all kinds of other “essentials” were our priorities. Everybody’s gotta live! There is still a good bit of fulfillment in buying these items. We were becoming independent, responsible, and providing for ourselves the things we needed.

But at the same time, the fulfillment curve started to curve over just a bit, because there wasn’t the same level of satisfaction in purchasing gasoline as there was in purchasing a new toy as a kid. Or, of course, that sweet piece of plastic mentioned above…

The “Comfort” Zone

ComfortsThe next stop on the curve is one of early adulthood. Many folks get married in this zone, and settle into an urban lifestyle of work, “quality of life” improvement, and child rearing. Even if that’s not where you are or were at this time, you were likely beginning to provide yourself with comforts that you didn’t have before, like that riding lawn mower for your well-manicured lawn, the new dining room set, or *cough* the new golf clubs that will definitely hit the ball 2.7 yards farther than the old ones. Comforts often satisfy cravings we’ve “had for a while” so that we can round out our existence and pull ourselves up to the lifestyle we’ve envisioned for ourselves.

The level of satisfaction we have from these items continues to rise, but (again) at a slower pace. Our fulfillment in “upgrading” items we already own isn’t the same as providing a base level of existence, and we can spend an awful lot of money chasing newer, nicer stuff than what we currently have, even if it accomplishes the same purpose.

The Price Of Their Toys

LuxuriesNow we’re really getting up there on the fulfillment curve! Instead of trinkets and our first home furnishings, now we’re starting to earn enough to think about luxury items! Instead of driving the Camry maybe I’ll upgrade to a 4×4 or truck. Or we’ll move into a nicer neighborhood and get that house we’ve been wanting. And now we can finally afford the boat or vacation home we’ve talked about.

Luxury items definitely don’t have the same “pop” as the categories before did, but can still provide some fulfillment, especially when it comes to sharing experiences with others.

Questioning Our Programming

As we go through life we all begin to understand that there is a point on the fulfillment curve where our satisfaction with purchases starts to go down instead of up. We reach the point where we no longer get a summer of fun out of a small purchase, we get a temporary buzz over a large purchase. And often that purchase comes with baggage that we regret (or at least have to deal with) later on.

If we don’t stop and ask ourselves where this point is for us, this “point of diminishing returns”, then we will continue to accumulate with no thought to the consequences. What started early on as a way for us to bring unbelievable joy to our lives with just a few bucks translates later into us cluttering up our lives and our time with junk we don’t particularly need, and becoming more frustrated and less fulfilled in life, even as we continue down this road.

What Is Enough?

The first step to reprogramming your thinking is to decide for yourself “what is enough”? I’ve written about it before, but it really is a key question for each of us to answer. And not only do you need to answer it, but you need to decide what you’ll do when you reach it. There’s more to life than earning and spending, and I’ll be writing about that later. Stay tuned!

Note: Part 2 of this article can be found here:
Where Are You On The Fulfillment Curve? Part 2