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?”