In Ancient Rome, around 100 AD, there was a philosopher known as Pliny the Younger. One of dear Pliny’s famous quotes is “An Object in possession seldom retains the charm it had in pursuit”. Frankly this is one of my favorite quotes as it really speaks to two different aspects of my financial life and direction.
The Pursuit of Material Goods
On the one hand it speaks to the pursuit and purchase of material goods. There was a time before I understood my values and controlled my expenses according to them. During that time I use to spend money on sometimes stupid things. The one thing I always noticed is I always found them more enjoyable during the act of finding the best deal and researching the purchase then I did in actually owning.
This speaks a lot to Pliny’s quote. The material almost hedonic pursuit or purchase of material goods is often much more fun then having those goods. This is why if you live that lifestyle there is always a want of more, because the item itself brings no pleasure. It is the pursuit of the item bringing you that rise of endorphins. Never mind that paying the bill later might bring a wave of fear instead of a high of anticipation.
Determining What you Value
Once you realize which items truly bring you pleasure and which only bring you pleasure during the pursuit you can better identify what you truly value. After all if you truly value it then the desire to have it will not fade after a few weeks of ownership. If the want does disappear then perhaps the want was from the pursuit. By categorizing those things that continue to bring you happiness you can begin to weed out the pretenders.
The Impact of Marketing
This is doubly true in the world of mass marketing. In todays day marketers cannot only make you want something, they can make you think you need it. They tie the value of an item to one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the more basic the better. Never mind that in reality you probably do not really need the item and perhaps do not even want the item.
Take a new car. When was the last time you saw a car commercial featuring ugly people driving to the work in a traffic jam? That’s right, never. Why, because it wouldn’t sell. They need to sell it to your desire to improve your self image by hobnobbing with good looking people. They want to sell the car to its safety for your family. They might even want to sell it to you as a boulevard cruiser that attracts attention flaunting your self esteem.
Never mind that most of your yearly driving time in a commuter car is likely spent in a traffic jam and you probably do not look like Cindy Crawford (ummm.. My wife looks better.. Thanks for proofreading this hun.). That wouldn’t be a basic need you identify with psychologically. They are playing up your pursuit but once you have the car you probably will realize it was more fun shopping for most cars then it was owning it. (This coming from a man with a Corvette he absolutely enjoys, but who has bought new cars in the past that ultimately left him cold).
The Pursuit of Goals
Outside of the hedonic treadmill I also think “An Object in possession seldom retains the charm it had in pursuit” applies well to goals. So many financial advisors talk about the pursuit of FIRE like early retirement is the end goal. But once you get there, then what? If your not retiring too something then you end up with the same issue with the hedonic treadmill. You might enjoy the chase of getting to Early retirement, but once you get there you might be quite unhappy with what you possess. This would be especially true if you have not thought beyond retirement. What’s next?
Perennial Pursuit is the Best Option
And thats really the point of Pliny’s quote. Ultimately we as humans are only truly happy when we are striving to better ourselves, to reach some goal. Early retirement is a fine goal, if it is one of many. But you need goals beyond early retirement. You need to retire to something. If not you’ll likely find that the pursuit had more charm then the possession. This is probably why people always seem to pass away not long after retirement. They retire as the destination, the end goal. After that goal they stop pursuing, enjoying, and really living. Don’t cut your life short by pursuing Early Retirement as your one goal. If you want Early Retirement then pursue it as a way point to bigger and better things. After all if your always in some sort of pursuit, then your life will always have some charm.
What are you pursuing? Do you find once you obtain something it loses it’s luster?
I am currently in pursuit of FIRE. I am about ten years from my goal if everything goes well. My dream is to retire to a waterfront cottage, with a great body of water for fishing and some land for me to plant produce. It also has to be within two hours drive from the big city.
For now, FIRE is goal number one, goal number two is the luxury cottage with a nice fishing boat.
A cabin with fishing actually sounds very peaceful.
Great post FTF! I love that quote, it’s the first time I hear it, but I’m of course familiar with the concept. This is something I’m currently struggling with myself. I want to be crystal clear on what my goals will be after I decide to retire early. I have some rough ideas, but nothing concrete yet. Always good to remind people of this important point. Thanks for sharing
Its definitely something that can easily be forgotten. Thanks for adding your perspective.
I had two older friends who both passed away not long after retiring at a traditional age, in their 60s. This was years ago and I never forgot it. One of the reasons Mr. Groovy and I pursued early retirement so that we could do the things we want while we have our health.
Right now one of our joint goals is to find land near Mr. G’s family to build a house. So far we have not been successful and we’ve been modifying the plan, expanding our search, etc. Next up is travel. We’ll be going to Montana in the fall – nothing that we would not have been able to do had we still been working but it sure will be wonderful not to come back to 500+ work emails. Once we settle into a new house we plan to take longer trips.
It sounds like you have a decent plan laid out going forward. My grand father actually passed at 41, so age is always in the back of my mind as well.
I feel like I am a bit in that FIRE stage of the now what. I am getting closer and closer by the day and part of me is trying to ensure I don’t sabotage myself so that I would be forced to work longer. But I don’t have any huge plans at this point and I have no idea what life will be like in retirement. So I’ll probably pass on FIRE until I have a pretty well laid out plan.
Thats probably a good idea. Once you’ve figured out your second act I look forward to hearing about the plans.
“We as humans are only truly happy when we are striving to better ourselves.” This hits it on the head. I think it’s a life-long thing. Retirement shouldn’t be the end-goal, imo. Because you’ll really feel lost once you hit it. What then? For life to be truly rich, one needs to continue to grow, and create value.
I so agree. Life is about constantly growing and evolving. Thanks for stopping by.
I have a few purchases where the research (pursuit) was more interesting than the item itself.
I have a long list of things to do and learn once I retire. And once I’m actually retired, I’m sure I’ll find even more things to pursue. Always curious.
It sounds like you have some interesting plans ahead of you. I do agree, always being curious helps to keep things entertaining.
What a great quote! This may explain a lot of things. Not only with possessions but also the pursuit of jobs, businesses, etc…hmmm Anyway, I’m done chasing those things now and instead pursuing FI and RE although it’s not so early as we will be in our 50’s.
Interesting post FTF, thanks for sharing!
Thanks Amy. Perusing FI is a great way to redirect the need for pursuit to a positive outcome.
A great quote from a great beer!
Can’t say I’ve had that one but looks interesting. I’ll have to check it out the next time we go to the beer store.
Very interesting that those chasing FIRE really just might be substituting the psychological effect of one type of spending for another. From buying a car to buying an early exit.
I’ve said before I’m saving to eventually buy time. I’ve never really fully considered the repercussions of that statement.
Very interesting, thanks for sharing.
Thanks MMW. It’s definitely a thought provoking quote.
This is a terrific article. We also pursue FIRE, but even more so to do grow and learn. We don’t mind working longer, or I might start a business someday. I’ve no plan (yet) on what I want to do after FI(RE), but I hope I find enough fulfillment even before reaching FI.
That’s a very healthy attitude about FI. I’m more doing so for fear of bad times.