Do You Ask What is the Proper Limit to Wealth? It is First to Have What is Necessary and Second to Have What is Enough – Seneca’s Letter from a Stoic

the quote "Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth It is first to have what is necessary and second to have what is enough" written against a blue background

Every time I watch the movie Crazy Rich Asians, two things happen:

Thing #1

My jaws drop like an idiot. Realizing that, I brace myself, close my mouth and smile like an idiot, my eyes shine like a maniac every ten minutes (or so my people that watch it with me tell me). This continues throughout the movie.

Thing #2

I imagine how it would feel, living a life like that – a plush life with all imaginable ‘material’ comforts. Lurking in that imaginary world somewhere is what I call a ‘No Monster’ aka who-are-you-kidding-that’s-not-your-life monster. I inevitably end up sad having recently lost imaginary wealth I acquired a couple of hours ago.

Who doesn’t want limitless wealth!

Everyone I know wouldn’t mind having that. I am sure you know other people like that. Chances are you are one of them. Or maybe, you are a lucky one who doesn’t drool over the idea of limitless wealth.

Lucky for me, having had parents and teachers who introduced me to the magical world of books, I always end up reading to comfort myself.

I recently chanced upon this quote from Seneca in the book Letters from a Stoic

Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and second to have what is enough.

Hmm… with a brain that is still reeling from the aftermath of Crazy Rich Asians, I attempt to dissect the quote.

Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary.

Makes you think, eh? How can having just what is necessary make you wealthy?

But think again, it does make sense.

Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

the pyramid representing Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid. As you can notice, the more basic needs of a human being lie at the bottom. As we satisfy one level of needs, we then seek to fulfill the next level of need. This goes on till we reach the top of the pyramid.

The basic necessities are a must-have – the foundation upon which your future wealth is going to be built.

If I have what is necessary, I am already halfway there.

I know I have a roof on my head, food on the table and very fortunately, family and friends that refuse to leave my side, regardless of my excellence at annoying them.

This is where Seneca packs a power punch: ‘To have what is enough’ needs an ability to control our mind, our whims and fancies. To be able to have the discretion to tell ‘enough’ from ‘too much’.

After all, we have seen countless examples of people operating in extremes.

Working insane hours to get that bonus, stabbing people in the back to get that promotion (not literally, I hope), having cosmetic surgeries done on them so many times that they resemble a walking mannequin.

And even that doesn’t seem enough.

So, what’s your ‘enough’?

Having enough could mean having things that facilitate enjoying your life with the ones you hold close, sharing joys and sorrows with them, living a healthy life and growing old gracefully.

I realize that this doesn’t define ‘enough’ for everybody.

But that’s the thing, right? It’s you who decides what’s your ‘enough’.

Just remember this – if at the end of the day, you are not happy or at ease, you’re not doing things right.

In that case, you might want to recheck your definition of ‘enough’.

I often find solace in this lovely song from Jungle book (dedicated to all The Jungle Book fans out there!)

I am not saying that I am immune to Crazy Rich Asians now, because I am not.

But atleast now I know whose words to seek comfort in next time want and doubt grip me.

And I thank Seneca for that.


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