I’ve been a financial advisor for nearly 25 years, and the most surprising thing I’ve learned about high finance is this: There’s no better place for learning about your emotions. I’ve learned a great deal about human nature—both my own and other people’s—by seeing how people handle their money. Whether you’re wealthy, poor or somewhere in between, you probably have a set of powerful, often unconscious attitudes toward money that affect every aspect of your life.
It’s important to look at the emotional side of money. The more we shine a light on it, the more effectively we’ll be able to live prosperously—not just in the financial sense but spiritually as well.
It’s About Love and Fear
What’s the first emotion you feel when you think about money? For a lot of people, it’s anxiety.
Early on in my career, a client asked me to help a friend who worked for a company that was being bought out. The new owners were terminating the retirement plan and so the employees were being asked to make decisions on how they wanted to handle their money. “She’s going to be receiving this money soon and she’s very nervous about it,” my client said. “Could you talk to her?”
I reached the woman by telephone later that day. In all of my years of dealing with clients and their money, I had never seen someone quite so anxious about receiving some. But I discovered that money wasn’t really the issue for her. Fear was. Everything at her workplace was changing. People didn’t know what jobs they would have when the dust settled. It was easy to fear the worst. For that woman, all of her anxiety was focused squarely on her money.
This kind of reaction is not as unusual as you might think. Money scares people because we have given it so much power in our lives. We fear making mistakes, losing our money, running out of it, being taken advantage of. We want money to solve our problems, and sometimes believe that to not have it makes us a failure. Money is a very good thing to have, of course. But it’s not the key to a happy life.
Whether you have a lot of money or a little, if you approach the world with a joyous and compassionate attitude, odds are that you will approach your financial life in the same way. You will use your money with generosity and compassion, letting love, not fear, guide your actions. People who are guided by love instead of fear discover that love is the greatest wealth of all.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Generosity begets generosity. So often I have seen individuals make a charitable gift to someone or some organization with an open and generous heart then receive it back in some way. Those who are openhearted with their money seem to get rewarded for it. It’s actually fun to watch this happen.
Years ago a wealthy client of mine decided to offer a particular stock from his portfolio to his church. It was a rather significant sum. Within a few months, he received a gift from a distant relative. It was the exact same stock he had given away, and almost the exact same value. “Well,” he said, “if I’d known I was going to get it back, I would have given all of my money away!”
I certainly wouldn’t advise that, but I do know that those who give do receive.
Money Is a Mirror
The way we act with money tells us a lot about ourselves. Sometimes more than we might want to hear! I ought to know. Recently, I turned my attention to my own retirement. What shape was my pension in? Would I have enough saved to cover my retirement years? What kind of lifestyle changes would I need to make? Basically, all of the questions I’ve discussed a thousand times with my clients. Guess what? I found that it made me very nervous. With my own financial profile staring at me from my computer screen, I was surprised to feel some of the same doubts I’d seen my clients suffer. Thinking about my own finances had activated my fear center, just the way it did with my clients. It felt like I was looking in a mirror.
Ever since then, I’ve kept an eye on how I behave in all of my personal financial decisions. Am I using money to fill some need it isn’t meant to fill? Am I using it in ways that reflect the person I truly want to be?
Because money is linked to so many parts of our lives, it is one of the best ways we can discover who we really are.
Money Is a Bridge
The decisions we make about money can affect our lives as powerfully as just about any others we will make. Does that sound obvious? Believe me, it’s not. The fact is that many of us give very little thought to our attitudes and behaviors about money. And yet there’s much to learn by examining those behaviors. If we don’t like what we see, we can change. But if we do like what we see, we can grow in that direction.
By changing our money-related behavior, we are able then to open the door to a new, more conscious way of living. This is true no matter how much or how little money we have. The lessons we learn in studying our relationship to money are lessons that can be applied to all of our relationships, whether with friends, family or even acquaintances.
Because money is connected to everything, creating a healthier, more honest relationship to money promotes a healthier, more honest relationship everywhere in our lives.
Money Has No Power in Itself
Money may appear to have enormous power. Much more than we often like to admit. But none of that power really exists in money. Money doesn’t actually carry any intrinsic power. We give it all that it has.
Money is no more than a simple tool. Out of habit, though, we sometimes allow that tool to control us, and to unduly influence who we are.
I believe that our relationship to money offers great potential for spiritual growth. Through our healthy relationship to it, we can turn our attention to those things that truly matter most. We can become more generous, compassionate and loving. We can use our money in ways that express our deepest spiritual values. And that can give us more joy than any amount of money in and of itself ever could.