Contact | (800) 972-6657
# # #
Money is not happiness. Money is a tool we can use to enhance the conditions that support happiness. Since sustaining a happy and fulfilling life in the twenty-first century requires a lot more cash than many folks have on hand, money often buys us more anxiety than satisfaction.
The good news is that growing our money doesn’t have to be as complicated or stressful as we are led to believe. A few simple practices can help us achieve financial equilibrium far more effectively than the shiny new investment strategies, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and mutual funds Wall Street rolls out every year. Once we accept that our own behavior is the single most important determinant of long-term success, we can coexist peacefully with the daily uncertainties of the stock market. By following what Buddhists call “the middle path,” we will find our way to financial sanity and earn what I call our happiness dividend — the joy and satisfaction that come from a life well lived.
Maintaining this sane perspective can prove difficult because we are often wildly confused about money. Much of what we know about money we absorbed in childhood from parents and members of our extended social circle, who themselves may have been wildly confused about money. What we often learn from others is not financial wisdom, but emotions and attitudes. Fears and cravings. Unhealthy attachments.
Pema Chödrön, an acclaimed Buddhist scholar and teacher, uses the Tibetan word shenpa to describe the emotion-laden attachments that hook our attention and lead us to behave in unconscious and unproductive ways. For many of us, money is the ultimate shenpa, causing us to do some very stupid things. This shenpa makes us vulnerable to impulsive financial decisions and to terrible investment advice.
There’s plenty of the latter around.
Warring “experts” are constantly bombarding us with fear-laced advice about how to manage our money. Who gets our ear? Who should we believe? Whose advice should we follow? Most of us have little basis for sorting the few precious grains of wheat from all the chaff.
When we lack money knowledge, shenpa runs the show. We end up gravitating to one extreme or another. Either we avoid money like a communicable disease or we become hyperfocused on getting more, which never seems to be enough. While ignoring money is a recipe for disaster, since it leaves our future to the whims of fate, focusing too much on money is a recipe for misery. It drives us to grind away at jobs we hate and micromanage our financial lives, leaping from one investment strategy to another at the slightest dip of the stock market.
Walking the middle path with money requires taming our emotional attachments and choosing to make mindful financial decisions. We must learn to keep quiet faith in those decisions and detach ourselves from the nonstop daily chatter on the airwaves. This middle path frees us from worrying about money every minute because we possess a financial view that stretches for years.
The two biggest demons we meet on the middle path are our own ignorance and fear. Mindfulness practices help us overcome our demons by teaching us to look at things as they really are, stripped of our mental and emotional illusions. Mindfulness teaches us to remain serene, present, and nonreactive in the face of our fear. These are the fundamental skills we need to develop to pursue a successful journey toward financial stability.
Jonathan K. DeYoe, CPWA, AIF, is the author of Mindful Money. His is a leading California-based financial adviser and personal finance educator as well as a longtime Buddhist practitioner. Find him online at HappinessDividend.com.