We all suffer from our desires. Generally, they are our desires to have what we want, when we want it, all at once.
When you drive to work on any given day, you may spot an expensive European car alongside you on the road. If you follow the car with your eye, you may see it crawling up a driveway to a house that’s bigger than yours.
If you go to school, you may be surrounded by other students whose parents have a lot of money. They go out to eat every night, and party with abandon. They’ll graduate with no debt and seemingly have the world at their fingertips.
And you’ll inevitably think, “Why can’t I just be wealthy, like them?”
If you took a moment to take a deep breath, you may begin to realize that what you’re really asking in that moment is, “Why can’t I be happy, like them?”
In that moment, you’re making the assumption that happiness can be bought. It can’t. In that very human moment of envy, you’re making the cognitive error that having money means fulfillment, when fulfillment is a state of mind. Don’t panic; we are conditioned to think like this. But the reality is that you have no idea if the people in the expensive cars or your rich peers at school are happy or miserable.
When you look outward for fulfillment, you look in all the wrong places. Outward financial questions look like these:
How can I eat at the right restaurants? Live in the right neighborhoods? Drive the right car? Join the “best” gym? Shop at the right supermarkets? Wear the right clothes? Send my kids to the right schools?
You can do all of these things, and still not get any closer to reaching financial balance in your life, because you’re aspiring to live someone else’s life. Your heart will still ache. No matter how much wealth you have to show off, you will still feel financially behind.
When you look inward, you begin to have a real conversation about your personal finances. Your questions start looking more like these:
How much money do I need to fulfill my purpose? How much do I need to stop spending on coffee in order to start saving for retirement? What apartment can I afford that leaves me some money at the end of the month to fund a business? What do I need to make my life fulfilling to me, and what do I need financially to be able to get there?
When you start looking inward, you become your own measuring stick for financial success. You stop comparing yourself to myths. You begin to work with your truth — whether you’re productively working toward your vision of fulfillment, or whether there are changes you need to make with your spending, saving, and investing in order to feed your soul more.
“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts. ” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Something magical happens upon this acceptance.
We say no to going out to eat so that we can put ourselves through night school to achieve a bigger goal, and it’s okay.
We don’t go out with our friends even though we want to, and work instead, so that we can help our elderly mother or father pay their bills.
We give up buying so much coffee (it’s not the healthiest habit, anyway) and choose to invest our savings in the hopes of aggregating a nest egg for our family.
And though we may still feel pangs of desire for wanting things that are lower down on our own list of priorities, like fancy meals out and a car that has all the trimmings, we feel grounded, because we’re in touch with our deeper goals. We are working toward them. We feel productive.
Beyond funding the bare minimum of what is needed for you to be physically healthy, money is a wasted asset when you don’t have a deeper target. Pleasures and comfort can be exchanged for money, but not sustainable happiness. They are different things.
The next time you see someone’s painfully curated image of success driving next to you on the road — or popping up on your Instagram feed — tell yourself the only truth there is. “I have no clue as to whether they’re happy or broken. I only know me, and I know where I’m going.”
Jane Hwangbo is a former investment analyst and portfolio manager who founded Mission Over Money, a personal coaching program designed to change the way individuals see and interact with money. Visit her website or find her on Twitter.
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