Can You Ever Have Enough Aphids

My kids have a board game appropriately titled “The Ladybug Game.” Like most games for kids 3 and up, the concept of the game simply consists of moving across the board from Start to Home.

The game consists of picking a card off a stack, and moving forward (or backwards) the number of spaces on the card. There are a few obstacles during the course like losing a turn, and running into a praying mantis(!).

As you progress across the board, you slowly collect aphids. The final obstacle, just before the end of the game, is a group of ants that require you to give them 10 aphids in order to pass by. If you don’t have enough, you have to take a detour and collect more aphids before coming back.

I’ve played the game dozens of time, but this morning was a new experience for me. It started when my 5-year old son successfully gathered 10 aphids. Soon after, and before he reached the group of ants, he landed on a space to get 3 more aphids. The inventory of aphid tokens was next to me, and opposite of the board to him. He asked me to hand him the 3 aphids owed to him.

“Micah,” I said, “you don’t need any more aphids. You already have 10, that’s enough to give to the ants and finish the game.” He didn’t understand. “Once you have 10 aphids, you don’t need any more. That’s all the aphids you’ll ever need. The rest are completely unnecessary.” He still wasn’t satisfied. At this point in the morning I wasn’t trying to teach any life lessons, and so I relinquished and gave him his aphids. Clearly, his 5-year old mind wasn’t quite ready to learn about marginal utility.

A few minutes later, after my son had already made it past the ants and no longer had the need for aphids, my 3-year old daughter ran over and took one of my son’s excess aphids. To this, he lost his temper and ran after her to get his aphid back. She ran up the stairs, and I grabbed hold of him before he chased after her.

Laughing, I asked him why he needed the aphid. He replied, “because it’s mine.” He struggled to get free, but eventually gave up. As he sulked and walked back to his space on the floor, he grabbed an aphid from the inventory box, and instantly he felt satisfied. Or, I should say, his ego felt satisfied.

Hopefully by this point, the parallels of The Ladybug Game and life are reasonably obvious. The Start is birth, Home is death, and the journey between is life. The obstacles along the path are the obstacles of life that slow you down or speed you up, and Aphids represent money. Once you have enough Aphids to get through the journey (life) there is no reason to collect more.

Well, there’s one reason: ego. The ego is fearful, and this fear drives greed. Greed for money, power, fame, attention, food, drink, attention, sex, love, and respect. But the ego can never be satisfied. The ego always wants bigger, faster, stronger. More!

I’ll forgive my son for letting his ego drive his actions, particularly since the ego is a good survival mechanism for a small child (as it was for our primitive ancestors).

In real life, and as we exit adolescence and enter adulthood – it’s important to realize and respect the fact that the ego will never be satisfied. It can only be ignored. To ignore it, you simply must recognize it’s existence. This is called Awareness.

Now, I’m not a buddhist monk (who often give up their worldly possessions) or Jesus (who famously said “No one can server two masters… You can not serve both God and money”). But as I become more aware, I’ve come to understand what they understood so long ago.

It’s not enough to say “money can’t buy happiness.” Of course that’s true, but there’s more to it. The desire for more money will absolutely buy unhappiness.

For me, I have enough aphids. I’m done stockpiling them. I’ll continue to look to create and improve my income from the existing stockpile (income investing). Of course, this is still letting my ego hold power in my decision making, but it’s at least putting a limit to the power I give my ego over me.

Realizing you have enough aphids is amazing. It removes the fear that drives the ego, which in turn removes at least one source of one’s unhappiness.

So I’ll ask you, do you already have enough aphids? Or, have you at least defined what is “enough?”

13 Responses to Can You Ever Have Enough Aphids

  1. Greg says:

    Well put! I like how you combined economics, physiology, and a personal story. It’s one thing to say that we would be satisfied with a particular amount of wealth. It is another to actually live like we have enough.

  2. I really hate aphids. They are the bane of my balcony garden. Anyway, you are satisfied because you have enough aphids for the ant. That’s hard to achieve in this day and age. I guess because the ant demands more and more. I’m pretty happy with my aphids too, but it is hard to say no more aphids. :)

  3. Chris says:

    Well, for the game, if there’s a finite amount of aphids, it would behoove you to get as many as possible, making it harder for the competitors to also get one, kind of like the limited hotels or houses in monopoly. Of course, there’s no rule like this in life, which is probably what I should be focusing on instead of the game rules!

  4. greg says:

    IMO a more accurate analogy to real life would be where there were ways to lose aphids a few times before confronting the ants – everything from market shifts and crashes to changes in tax laws and inflation.

    More offers more security – if it’s no effort and the only benefits to one are good, then why not get more? Only if there’s effort involved will the thought of having more for the VAST majority of my realistic use cases ever make me refuse.

    • Only if there’s effort involved will the thought of having more for the VAST majority of my realistic use cases ever make me refuse.

      Perhaps I should make him drive into the office and sit beneath fluorescent lighting in a 6’x6′ cubicle for a day to earn the aphid. Then he can decide if he has enough aphids or not.

  5. savedpenny says:

    Oh, how many dozens of times I’ve played that game with my own 5 year old daughter yet failed to make the connection between the aphids and “my number.”

  6. Mr1500 says:

    Very interesting and something I think about often in relation to my own goal. When I meet my goal, I’ve often wondered if I’ll feel the same way as your child: “I’ll just work another year.”

    I hope that I can realize when I’ve collected enough aphids and let go.

    • This is exactly why I’ve transitioned most of my assets into income-geneating investments – so I know exactly when I’ve reached my goal and I’m not tempted to say “I’ll just work another year.” I’ll work if there’s a job that interests me. Otherwise, I’ll let my aphids work for me.

  7. Meister Jim says:

    He earned those aphids! Are you a communist? j/k sort of. Let’s all remember why we are collecting aphids in the first place and not let the ends to a mean become the end, and remember that having fun playing “The Ladybug Game” might just be more important than having enough aphids to pay the ants on your first go.

    • gregorit says:

      One can never have enough aphids.

      If not for you, than for somebody else. There are some folks, a few of them “deserving”, who could use your aphids so to not acquire them when available does yourself, and them, an injustice.

      “Be all you can be”
      Being less is being selfish.

      • @gregorit – You seem to be equating the gathering and donating of money to “being all you can be.” I disagree. There’s nothing inherently wrong with your version of charity, but there are many other ways to give to the world.

  8. Katherine says:

    At 5 yo, it’s that competitive spirit that boys start to acquire. As we age and hopefully get more introspective, we wonder why we need so many ‘aphids’. Whether your stockpiling them or letting them work for you is separated by a thin line. Anyone with a bit of competitive spirit will always have a goal of some sort.

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