I’m beginning to wonder if how much money we have is less important than how we feel about it. I suspect that if I spent as much time exploring how I felt about my money as I have trying to earn it, I’d be a much happier person today.
Is the person who is wealthy yet miserable just a cliché? What about people living in poverty who seem joyful and display incredible generosity? Before we dismiss these extremes as stereotypes, perhaps there is more to be learned by looking below the surface.
As a financial planner, I have heard people express the gamut of emotions when it comes to finances. Often, just talking about our money issues can be very liberating. Clients have commented to me, “Wow, this is great! It’s like talking to my therapist.” Observing others struggle with these issues has led me to become more conscious of my own challenges, such as worrying about having enough money. Perhaps I can lead others to a greater understanding of themselves.
Really talking about money — not offhandedly boasting about the great deal we got on a week in Cabo — is not so easy. Sometimes the issues people have are difficult to spot, and most of the time we’re not even aware of our own problems.
Do you spend money to make yourself feel better? Do you compare your financial status to that of others — and feel worse when you do so? There are many different ways that we think and behave around money. How can we gain greater self-understanding?
I would like to offer three ways to help you become more aware of your relationship with money.
First, there are a number of books I can recommend. Emotional Currency by Kate Levinson, PhD, The Money Anxiety Cure by Koorosh Ostowari, and The Heart of Money by Deborah Price are all excellent reading for beginners. Many authors suggest that you revisit your past, recalling stories about how money affected you as you grew up. You may want to write a “money history” to identify some of the themes that influence your financial behavior today.
The second approach is to talk about it! Start slowly, with innocuous topics and with someone you trust. For example, recently I told someone how much I paid for my car and found it oddly liberating. I haven’t shared that information with even five people in all the years I’ve owned the car — 10 years! Revealing such a fact may seem inconsequential, yet it can bring up some real emotions. It may not have been a big deal to the person I told, but it put me in knots just thinking about revealing the number. I have to ask myself why that is.
The final way to deepen your understanding of your relationship to money? Be fully present when you are dealing with situations involving it. Here is an example: You find some charges on your cell phone bill for which you don’t think you are responsible. You call your service provider to question the charges. How are you feeling? How are you treating the person on the other end of the phone? As you handle various situations, be aware of your reactions and question your feelings and behavior.
The more aware you are of how you deal with your money, and why, the more you will benefit. You’ll have greater understanding, make more conscious choices, and, I believe, experience more happiness with money. This process takes some tenacity and curiosity, as well as a willingness to take a hard look at some things that may make you uncomfortable. But I believe that taking these steps — reading a book, writing down your money stories, talking to others, and observing how you feel when you are in a situation involving money — can yield tremendous insights and indeed make you feel better about the money you have.
Jeff Stoffer is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.