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.
How can we develop a serene relationship with money in such a nonserene world? We must first get our heads straight about what money is and what it is not
by untangling our ideas about money from our ideas about happiness. True happiness never comes from money. Happiness comes from intangibles like rich human relationships, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of optimism.
Nonetheless, money does support conditions and experiences that can enhance our happiness, such as taking a family trip, helping a friend in need, retiring in a place we love, or having the free time to finally write our novel. Money’s sole purpose is to help us sustain who we are and what we truly value. It is a tool that can get us where we want to go, not an end goal in itself.
Once we understand that money is a tool, how do we get it to work for us? By putting in plenty of hard work of our own. This challenging task does not include an exhaustive search for the “best” money system or guru. Instead, we must turn our gaze inward and focus on our own behavior and thinking around money.
We hold far more power over our personal fortunes than we realize. We gain this power by following a few simple practices that increase both our happiness and our financial well-being. These practices have remained unchanged for generations. Follow them diligently, and we’ll find ourselves well on the way to financial health. Take shortcuts, and all the clever financial tricks in the world won’t get us back on track.
The practices aren’t complicated. All the elements of mindful money management can be reduced to just four deliberate steps:
- • Cast aside our illusions about what money can and can’t do for us.
- • Become luminously conscious of what really makes us happy.
- • Make a simple money plan to support our vision of happiness.
- • Stick calmly and nonreactively to our plan.
As Porky Pig says, “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”
is divided into three sections that guide you through the first three steps: “Unmasking the Illusions,” “Finding Your Happiness,” and “Making a Plan.” Every chapter offers simple Mindful Money Practices designed to transform your relationship with money. Ranging from reflective writing and daily mindfulness practices to nuts-and-bolts accounting, these practices will prepare you to complete the Financial Action Plan template in the appendix.
The third section, “Making a Plan,” establishes the real connection between money and happiness by helping you launch your dreams into action. You’ll learn timeless, uncomplicated steps for achieving financial stability and growing your money. These steps can be taken no matter what the economic weather may be and no matter how loudly the pundits are screaming.
My hope is that this book helps you develop resilience, healthy practices, and confidence around money. We all have a quiet, alert place within ourselves where we can ride out the panic, the doubt, and the shenpa-driven impulses that arise when it comes to money. If we just sit mindfully, we’ll find that place.
I know because I did. When I started my career in financial services over twenty years ago, I was also pursuing a master’s degree in Buddhist studies. One of the first challenges I grappled with was how to reconcile planning for my own financial future with the concept of living in the present moment. After years of sitting with this question, here is the beautiful answer I discovered: My financial plan does far more than pave the way for a happier future. My plan greatly adds to my optimism, self-esteem, and sense of purpose in the here and now
. Planning for tomorrow brings hope and joy to the present moment, which is a true happiness dividend.
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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.
Excerpted from Mindful Money
. Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan K. DeYoe