Previously posted on HubPages.com.
Humans apply meaning to money. We use it as life’s key metric for success. We equate security with assets and freedom with the size of our portfolio. We give the dollar power by connecting it to our self-value. And then we wonder why it has such an impact on our feelings.
We may understand that financial assets aren’t the answer to self-satisfaction, but we still struggle to shake the impact money has on us. We apply meaning to it, equating security with assets and freedom with the size of our portfolio.
Money, as an object, means nothing, so how can it cause strong feelings of envy, fear, and shame? We’ve programmed ourselves to put money front and center — to see it as the foundation for success, security, and freedom. In fact, wealth is important enough for nearly 25% of individuals to list it as the meaning of life, according to Pew Research Center data. In order to reclaim our emotions, we need to break the connection between money and happiness.
Money and Misery
Money is the leading cause of stress for 44% of individuals, according to a Northwestern Mutual survey. People who place emotional value in money risk having problems every time they experience a life transition or face a significant challenge. As stress increases, any little change in financial circumstances will make them feel worse. It’s a vicious cycle.
When financial assets are tied to our psychological well-being, we have trouble disconnecting the two. Years of this self-sabotaging behavior can result in memory difficulties, problem-solving issues, and lowered esteem. And because we let money affect our emotions, we can’t reason a way out. A simple disagreement with your boss could take on catastrophic proportions under this type of mental duress.
Sadness and anger can also lead to impulsive and risky purchases. A Harvard University researcher discovered that people spend more when they’re upset. There’s a reason that “retail therapy” is more than just an adage: People who engage in emotional spending aim to improve their moods. Unfortunately, these habits and behaviors don’t address the root cause of the problem.
Let Go of Money-Driven Feelings
Changing how you think about money isn’t easy. After all, the association between money and power isn’t logical — it’s emotional. Consider evaluating your mindset from a psychological perspective. At our firm, we’ve coined a philosophy called Behavioral Wealth Management™. Our goal is to help people make sound choices instead of rash decisions.
You might be surprised at how often individuals with lots of money still feel mired in unhappiness and disillusion. Wealthy people aren’t innately happier; the key drivers of happiness aren’t related to extrinsic motivators such as money. Rather, happiness can be found in activities that demand our complete attention or close relationships build on trust. It can be found in friendship, family, hobbies, and beliefs. Without a personal purpose, a “rich” person will be just as unhappy as a “poor” person.
It’s time to realize that happiness is unrelated to fiscal prestige. No matter how much we make or what our bank accounts look like, we should find fulfillment in other influences. Here’s how to reclaim how money makes you feel:
1. Rethink internal money messages.
Evaluate how you think about money. Do you make knee-jerk decisions? Do you put too much weight on money? You may have a toxic mindset that only leads to stress and poor financial decisions. Realign how you value money with your standards for happiness and self-fulfillment.
2. Reflect on your own abundance.
Rather than thinking about what you don’t have, consider what you do. Reflect not on the few with more but the vast majority with less. Once you have a fresh perspective, assess your abundance in the other five elements of wealth: time, talents, wisdom, network, and body and mind. Although many Americans define wealth with dollar signs, 72% believe the way they live is more valuable.
3. Remember that money is a tool.
Like a tool, money has purpose. A hammer is used to drive nails, and money is used to enhance lives. Society may tell you that happiness is found in the number of things you own, but the truth is that joy is a result of many intersecting components. Sure, it’s nice to live comfortably and indulge in extravagances, but money isn’t the be-all and end-all.
4. Learn how to properly use the tool.
Tools require training. No one expects a teenager to flawlessly drive a car on his first try, so no one should expect to handle money perfectly from the start, either. If you have children, make the financial education process a household experience. By teaching your family how to view wealth, you’ll ensure that future generations understand what really matters. You don’t want your family’s wealth to disappear after three generations like 90% of other family fortunes do.
5. Engage in enjoyable and affordable activities.
Focus on engaging in meaningful activities that don’t require a lot of money. Grab coffee with a friend, volunteer where you’ll make a difference, or spend time exploring nature on an afternoon hike. Forgetting about money for a while loosens its grip on you.
Feeling ready to disengage from your money-centered emotions? Take it day by day. Soon enough, you’ll look back and wonder why you ever let a dollar sign stress you out.