“Money can’t buy your happiness.” – American proverb
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness isn’t spending it right.” – Lexus ad
Money is a complex topic. On one hand, it is simply a financial instrument to facilitate trading of goods and services. On the other hand, it represents a complex set of needs and beliefs that mean different things to different people.
What we believe about money, and the needs we attach to it, are frequently shaped by our environment and experiences while growing up. This includes how our parents have dealt with money, how our childhoods were hindered or benefited by money, and what our culture/society tells us about money. When our parents tell us that money doesn’t grow on trees, when parents are not around because they are working all the time, when classmates make fun of poor students behind their backs, when classmates make fun of wealthy students behind their backs, when we are told that the family cannot afford a toy, or when we can have any toy we want – these experiences all leave impressions in our minds.
Our beliefs can help us become successful in the short term. The thing is, unless we become aware of our beliefs and examine them, we tend to act out these beliefs even as our life’s situations change. My father’s family struggled financially when he was young and he worked around the clock to start his successful business. However, even as the business scaled and became successful, he was still focused on putting in hours rather than figuring out the critical things the business needed for success or what he wanted out of the business. As a result, his health deteriorated as he continued to work long hours under stress while business growth slowed.
I also worked with a successful attorney who grew up on welfare as a child. His family thought poorly of wealthy people and believed those with money are stuck up and conceited. As the attorney worked hard on his craft and became financially successful, he had a very difficult time reconciling his wealth with his childhood image of wealthy people. Over the years, he sent money to any family members who asked him for it and spent the rest of what he earned on things that helped him feel less guilt. When his daughter neared college age, he realized that he had not saved money for her college or for his own retirement.
Interestingly, children of wealth creators can struggle with similar issues. Whether real or imagined, many of the “raising generation” find themselves defined by their relationship to the wealth creators. I’ve known a number of wealth inheritors who either rebelled against living in their parents’ shadows or come to believe that they can never get out of that shadow. Either way, without awareness, these younger men and women tend to take actions that conform to their beliefs – they reject ideas simply because they want to be different, they give up their own dream to take on their parents’ visions, they hesitate making big life decisions because they never had to, etc.
In my work, I see clients who really value money, thinking that the money will bring them more joy, freedom, and/or safety. However, they find that they don’t feel more joy, freedom or safety even as they do more to earn more money.
What I have found is that, in our conversations about money, many of us frequently neglect to talk about why we even need or want money in the first place. As difficult as it may be to imagine, it is possible to live without money. There are more and more people who have decided to live off the grid and on the land. It’s not my intent to invite a debate here, but simply to recognize and acknowledge that living a life that requires money is a choice. That choice is informed by our values and our needs – what it would take for my life to be more wonderful and meaningful.
So, instead of deciding what money can do for me or how wonderful/horrible my life would be with more/less money, I invite all of us to start financial conversations with what I want for my life.
How would I decide if my life is more wonderful and meaningful; what needs to happen?
What do I need to see or feel to believe that I’ve contributed to the success of my children?
What do I need to experience so that I feel confident that I’ve made a difference to the world?
Once I have some clarity around what really matters, then I figure out how money plays a part in making what I want come true. With the clarity of what I want my money to do for me, I gain persistent motivation to pursue my goals, not from a place of stress and lack of choice, but with a sense of purpose and excitement for the future.