“I Call It Greed, But It Was More a Feeling of Wanting a Surplus in My Life…”

“There was an opulent sunset. I was standing under an acacia in bloom and the words ‘shower of gold’ came into my mind, followed by a surge of feeling. I call it greed, but it was more a feeling of wanting a surplus in my life, wanting to have too much of, something, for a change. I didn’t want to be a candidate anymore, not for a doctorate or anything else: I wanted to be at the next level, where things would come to me, accrue to me. It was acute.”
— Norman Rush, Mating

This passage may not seem to touch directly on happiness, but to me, it describes an emotion that I’ve often felt but could never convey — an emotion that’s tied to happiness, though also separate from it.

* I spent a long time exploring Meet Me at Mike’s — “good stuff for nice people.”

* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and every weekday morning, you’ll get a happiness quotation in your email inbox (free, of course). Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com.

  • I find that quote a bit confusing!
    Is it really about wanting a surplus? Or is our human tendency to want a surplus really just our insecurity about one day not having enough?

  • Kat

    In the end we are all just candidates for death so I believe we should feel like apprentices in life.

  • I understand living in the moment and expressing gratitude for what I have.

    However, I live with my parents.  I invest in my health by spending money on grass-fed meats and organic vegetables.  I want to raise a family with 3-4 kids and support a wife. 

    Enjoying “now” is the key to being happy now.  But this quote makes sense to me because without a desire for a surplus, I’ll never leave the home of my parents.

  • Peninith1

    So interesting to have desire expressed in terms of ‘pelf’ –coinage, accrual. I guess my longings for surplus don’t get expressed as nakedly having a Midas Touch (although I can certainly identify with wanting the things and experiences money can buy)–yet when I have felt that kind of aspirational greed it is usually more for emotional richness or for mastery of a skill.

  • This is a fantastic passage. I think that sometimes we are tired of striving and struggling. If we have an emotional surplus, when our well runs dry for a little while we can draw on that extra inspiration to tide us over and not drown in our own self-pity.

  • LivewithFlair

    What a strange and interesting passage!  I think I understand that desire to cease striving and just have enough.  I felt that way in the Rocky Mountains yesterday when I literally sprawled out in the grass and looked at a rainbow, some elk, and my own daughter entranced.  Here are the pics:  http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/2011/07/i-just-wanted-to-remind-you.html

  • Tracy

    Thanks for sharing this passage. 

    I thought of you yesterday Gretchen, because I discovered a shop in my neighborhood that has a few sample scents from CB I Hate Perfume!! Such interesting smells!! Burning leaves is amazing, and so many of the scents brought back memories from childhood. Before I left I sprayed on some Eternal Return – I love that one. (At the Beach 1966 is another good one). 
    Have a good one!

  • Hi Gretchen!

    I reread the quote twice and think there is something in it very closely tied to happiness. Studies, as you have pointed out here in your site, demonstrate that there is about a $75,000 threshold of happiness. In other words, those making less than that amount have measurably less happiness, even though those above that amount enter diminishing returns on their happiness.

    Here’s what I mean: For most people, happiness is tied very closely to a level of financial comfort (though I think people like Gandhi and Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama might disagree).

    There is something disheartening about having to scrape and scrounge and cut coupons and wait to see if the check clears and wonder where next month’s rent will come from. There’s something nice about walking into a book store, seeing a book you want, and simply picking it up and buying it. You don’t have to check the price, look for a paperback version or jot the title down for a wish-list for next year’s birthday.

    I don’t see the greed in it. Lusting for more, wanting ever-greater amounts of something for the sake of having it, might fairly be called greed. But wanting comfort and freedom and the ability to rid yourself of financial worry can not only be a worthwhile goal, it can be a very noble endeavor, the attainment of it adding a measure of happiness to living.

    Remember, even Jesus never said money was the root of all evil. Nor is having it. Nor is pursuing it. Nor is having the life an excess amount of it can provide. It is only loving it that crosses the line.

    Thanks for sharing, Gretchen. It’s always a joy to come see what you posted next.

  • Agree with Jenp.

    Wanting more is all about insecurity.

    Why do we put our happiness outside ourselves and claim shock when the external is removed?



  • Julie

    What I was stuck by in reading this passage was how it resonated with my own desire to life the life I want to be living instead of working toward it, or planning for it, or anticipating it – to acutally be living it.  How often I hear myself thinking when this happens THEN, or once we finish that THEN we can and so on.  To  allow oneself the freedom to want a surplus requires first that you have that which you desire in sufficient quantity to accumulate a surplus.  What a gift!!


  •  Great Post Gretchen!

    Loved the quote. Thanks for the share…

  • I see the sunset and I have a surge of feeling that I want the moment to last forever. However, I feel I can relate to that feeling this Norman Rush man describes. People just want to feel secure and flowing. I don’t want to turn from the sunset and get back to the daily grind sometimes! I want to be absorbed by those lithium rays! That’s what it means to me!

  • gs

    I understand that feeling and it is a pity there is no exact word for it –the feeling of wanting Abundance, and the freedom of abundance. You have so much of “X” you don’t have to think about it any more. It is the feeling of joy–“my cup runneth over.” It’s like the peace of looking at the ocean–the endlessness, no measurement, the connection to something infinite. It is like looking at a mountain whose peak is hidden in the clouds. It is the Sublime, basically, and we all need the sublime.
    The opposite desire is more common and more well-known: the desire for less, which is the desire for simplicity. 

    • Julie

      Well said!!

  • Susan Cain

    Mating is one of my all-time favorite books! Thanks for reminding me of that quote.

  • Awwww my gosh! Thank you for looking at my blog, you adorable lady! I COMPLETELY and UTTERLY love your book!!!!!!!!!!!!! xx pip

    • gretchenrubin

      Thank YOU!


  • llpnelson

    This reminds me a little bit of the way C.S. Lewis describes joy…as a feeling of longing.

    Thanks very much for your book and blog…both are making me, well, happy!

  • Debra Bouche

    The Bible said it well in Proverbs 30:8-9 – ‘First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches. Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say ‘Who is the Lord?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.’ There is a limit to what we need, and that is called enough.
    I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how grey the day may appear.
    I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.
    I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.
    I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.
    I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
    I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
    I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.