Partly because we are still in the shadow of the huge recession we had a few years ago, I find myself forced to be aware of my own unresolved issues around money: how much I have and how much I don’t have. I say “forced” because it is not a topic I relish contemplating. Denial has been by far my preferred coping skill in this area. My only saving grace is that I know I am not alone.
I have been a psychotherapist for 21 years and in all that time I have had only one or two clients who were more comfortable talking about money than sex. All the others, would prefer to share intimate details about anything else besides how much they earn for a living. None of them has ever come into therapy with “money issues” as a presenting problem, yet these emerge over time and are usually powerful and multi-layered.
Although there is a lot written about how to manage money better, not much has been written about how to feel better, psychologically, about the money we have, let alone the money we don’t have.
Recently though, there have been two interesting studies about money and happiness which are based on different definitions of happiness. In one study, happiness is defined as “life evaluation” and the findings basically suggest that the more money you have, the happier you feel about what you have achieved in life. The other study defines happiness as a state of “emotional well being” and its findings suggest that after earning $75,000 a year, the shift in this state is not connected to how much money you earn or have. It is more about how you feel about yourself and your personal connections. See the article from Money.USNews
I define the difference between these two types of happiness as “self confidence”, meaning feeling good about our abilities and achievements, which I see as a more left-brained, analytical process, versus “self esteem”, feeling good about who we are as a person, and is thus a more right-brained, intuitive process akin to loving ourselves, warts and all. Ideally, we would have a balance of both.
Most of what is written currently about how to manage your money better only tends to address left-brain, logical concepts that can be learned in x number of steps. However, when we neglect our right brain’s need to feel valued and valuable no matter how much money we have, we tend to sabotage ourselves, or feel like nothing we have or do is ever “good enough”.
I think this contributes to whatever difficulty we have in managing both our time and money well. It’s similar to how difficult it is for so many of us to manage weight well. We cycle between over-spending and over-saving in a way that is parallel to us cycling between over-eating and crash-dieting. When we are overly perfectionist about managing these things well, being emotionally present and spontaneous with our loved ones can suffer.
Clearly “left brain” approaches that rely solely on logical approaches based on balancing “income and expenses”, “risk versus security”, simply are not helpful on a long term basis.
So, when you take time to reflect on your budget, what you earn and what you spend, also take time to reflect on what you most value about others, about yourself and about life, and what you would like others to value most about you. Perhaps, even do this first.
It’s easy for us to prioritize the concrete things about life that are in our faces every day, and to be seduced into believing things like, “we can never be too rich or too thin”. On the other hand, it is harder to prioritize, or even to remember, our less visible values. Allowing ourselves to focus on them first will hopefully help right this imbalance.