As a person pursuing a mindful way of living, I often find myself being questioned about and challenged by my relationship with money.
More specifically, it is hard to find and draw the line between working hard to earn a certain type of lifestyle and stopping the greedy pursuit when I have enough.
Because, really, what is enough? Or too much? Or too little?
It’s all about balance, right? But the real question is—how do we find that?
I recently heard a story about an acquaintance of mine who, when at a restaurant, takes extra free sides (ketchup, napkins, etc.) to simply throw them away. He thinks that the food is overpriced and therefore wasting extra material (that the company has to buy) is his way of getting even.
The idea made me feel sick.
To this person, the value of money is so primary that it supersedes the true value of protecting our environment and avoiding waste.
Beyond my anger, I felt a deep sadness. Embarrassingly, I understood how he came to have such an imbalance with money. I get it.
Money starts as survival and quickly turns into status and image. Society doesn’t help, by constantly reinforcing this false sense of worth.
Really, that definition of worth is an empty notion; money only feeds our egos.
So, why is it so easy to fall back into the trap? By now, we all know that money doesn’t buy happiness but the catch here is—money does allow you opportunity:
Vacations, concerts, material goods, sporting events, where you live, what you eat, etc.
The trap grips us when we allow these things to completely define our lifestyle and even worse, compare them to others around us. It is so easy to second guess our seemingly happy lifestyles.
Hey, I’d love to quit my desk job, teach yoga and ride horses full time while making $100,000 a year, like them.
The reality is, we all live our own experience, finances included, and we don’t all have the same opportunities. The idea of comparing ourselves to others is completely pointless.
We become jealous and sick with greed as our egos take over. We become disillusioned to what our values are and start striving for more to fill the void.
We’ve all been there. It sounds something like: I’ll be happy when I get my new car, or go on this vacation.
So, the next time we feel that unhealthy grip, we should try to take a moment and pause. Instead of asking “What do they have that I want;” or even, “Why isn’t what I have enough,” we could try asking ourselves this:
“What are my top five values in life?”
Examples of some values may be: family, love, health, spirituality, growth and stability.
Remember that values are different than goals.
A goal may be to go on vacation, while the value related to that goal could be health (mentally) or family. It is important to think of values because these are things that hold true meaning and worth in our lives.
Next, ask—”How is money allowing me opportunities to live according to those core values?”
In other words, what purpose does money serve in your life?
The goal of these questions, although seemingly obvious, is to re-frame our issues with money from the ground up. Most likely, always wanting more comes from a void in the fulfillment of our values, not in a number. We all need money and money is good, as long as we foster a healthy relationship with it.
So, I encourage everyone to walk through an exercise that defines your purpose with money based on your values, not on comparison to others or a need to prove yourself. Further, I recommend reading step two of Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach for more detailed guidance for both couples and individuals. These things have helped me immensely.
In the book, David asks you to create a “value circle” to more clearly define your values. Then, you can ask yourself again, “Does my financial behavior match my value circle?”
David gives a wonderful example about a father that highly values family. The father was working extra hours to have more money, live in a big house and provide his family with monetary things.
Yet, he was feeling unhappy due to emptiness in his life. What he found was the extra money from working wasn’t filling him up. It was taking away time that he could be spending with his family. What he really needed was to work less, give up the extra income and instead build the relationships he desired with his loved ones.
In some way, we can all start making similar adjustments and lifestyle changes to balance our relationship with money and values. Just like any relationship it takes work, time and attention to really succeed. But, building your relationship with money from a foundation of values allows you to set up a balanced life that truly serves you.
At last, since we are all human, and comparison will always creep back in, I have found these five things always help remind me that worth has nothing to do with the number in a bank account:
1. Write or think about something that you are grateful for that has nothing to do with monetary value: someone that means the most to you, the sunset, the nice gesture from the stranger in the store.
Gush about it. Let that feeling of fullness consume you when you think about it. Do this every day, once a week, twice a week whatever it takes to always remember that feeling. That is worth.
2. Participate in an activity that requires no money.
Take a walk, hike, jog—in nature. Pay attention to your senses: your feet on the ground, the breeze, the smell of the flowers. Remember that you have been gifted this life, you didn’t buy it. Breathing is free. Feeling emotions is free. Thinking is free.
The universe is there for you, and it’s beautiful. Experience it.
3. Go back to the basics.
For a period of time, let go of a material thing that has become part of your lifestyle. This may be letting go of your cell phone or TV for one night, not driving for a couple of days or backpacking for a week. This exercise helps to ground us and remind everyone that when it comes down to it, things are just things.
Really, we need very little to survive. When we release our attachment to things, even briefly, it is freeing.
4. Listen to music.
Scream. Dance. Sing. Laugh. Cry. Express yourself for the simple reason: it feels good.
5. Finally, go to sleep.
Take a deep breath and forgive yourself. Be kind and get rest. Tomorrow you are going to wake up and you probably won’t have a million more dollars, but you’re alive and I believe in the good things coming, coming, coming…
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Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Emily Bartran