"The first rule of a happy life is low expectations" - Charlie Munger, vice-chairman Berkshire Hathaway
At some stage in your career, you will raise your head up from your desk, blink into the space above it, and ask yourself: "Can I go now?" One of the burning questions we all face is at what point can we ease ourselves from the hamster wheel and start to down-size your efforts at accumulating stuff. Can I afford not to work? What would I do all day? Would my boss even notice I'd gone? Would anyone come to my leaving party? All of these are valid concerns.
Of course, there are those who love the rat race and would irritate the hell out of the rest of us if they had nothing to do. However, for most, let's say the mediocre, this is unlikely to be so much of a problem. Many of us get so caught up in work that we forget to ask why we are doing it in the first place until eventually we work one weekend too many and start to look jealously at those who do whatever they want, whenever they want and really don't care that they haven't got a German car. Don't worry, this is not about giving up on life and doing sudoku all day, it's about asking when you can give yourself permission to slow down a bit and do more things because you like doing them, not just because someone else is paying you to do them.
Yes, a career can be challenging, rewarding and even fun, but then so can hanging out with friends and family. Recent working-from-home restrictions have led to the emergence of awkward questions like: "Why have kids if you never have the time to see them?" And "How come if we love weekends and holidays so much, do we spend the majority of our time doing something else?" The rub, of course, is that you need money to provide for yourself and your family. The important question is how much?
The amount needed to opt out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis depends not just on the circumstances of those concerned, but also on their attitude. One of the key reasons empty-nesters give for continuing to accumulate is that they want to leave a bunch of money to their offspring. This, despite the fact that aforementioned offspring have been shown to be happier if they are left to make their own money. Parents who, when they still could, rushed about the world enjoying themselves were accused of selfishly spending their kids' inheritance as if it was someone else's money they were flaunting. If we stopped trying to leave every kid a house, maybe the prices would come down enough that they could afford to buy their own? The economy as a whole would benefit hugely if we spent our money first before shuffling off towards whatever life after death our religion might have promised.
Over in the Land of the Free, the American dream is being reappraised. Originally it was that anyone, from any background, could achieve their dreams in a socially mobile, egalitarian society. Unfortunately, this has shown to be just that, a dream, and the class system of old Europe that immigrants swam across the Atlantic to escape has been replaced by Plutocracy (rule by the rich), which is proving even harder to break into. These days, the American Dream is more: "You could be the richest person in the world!" The implication being that if you don't make it that you are a failure: However much you have, your aim is to have more.
Things are a bit different in New Zealand, where Kiwis are often criticised for our low productivity, generally by people who feel aggrieved that we're not making them enough money. This lack of enthusiasm for work is demonstrated by an outlook towards wealth characterised by our relatively modest desire to own a "Bach, Boat and Beemer". These days BMWs have been replaced in the desirability stakes by a Range Rover, Tesla or even Ute, but the principle's still there: Instead of buying Fijian islands and coating our toilets in gold, all we ask for are the tools that enable us to make the most of living in this wonderful country. The easiest way to get satisfaction in life is simply by lowering expectations and this is demonstrated by the way that Kiwis consistently outperform Americans in terms of happiness.
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Of course, as in all societies, not everyone will achieve their dreams, but at least the three Bs are somewhere within reach. If you are trying to be the richest person in the world you will never be happy (Succession, anyone?) but if your aim is to have enough to enjoy life without the need to constantly covet your neighbour's ox, donkey or superyacht, then you are in with a chance.
Spend a little time on Twitter and you will come across those from other countries (maybe even some Kiwis) who view New Zealanders as a slightly backward bunch of mediocrities who would rather sit and catch fish from a small boat than dodge taxes enough to launch their own rocket into space. Personally, however, I think that attitude is a large part of what makes this such a great country to live in.
• Paul worked in advertising at a quite good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of maybe not being the best