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Exploring Your Relationship with Money

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

Don’t chase money—you’ll never catch it.
Debbi Fields

I was once a member of the “I’ll Be Happy When” club. If I could just find the perfect mate and the perfect job—and become a millionaire quickly—then I’d be totally fulfilled.

I set out to achieve these goals with a vengeance. I thought success, especially the material kind, required it. In fact, I took a seminar on success and became proficient at setting daily, weekly, monthly, 5-year—even lifetime goals.

Dutifully, I read over my list of goals twice a day, every day. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t materialize immediately. And it made me unhappy, because I had also joined the ranks of the “I Want More!” club.

In our consumer-driven society, we seem to have become money-crazed. We have adopted the collective understanding that we must have more in order to be happy and secure, and that our material success is the ultimate yardstick by which to measure our value and self-worth. Anything we like, we want to own. We are seduced by millionaires sharing their secrets and promising us that we, too, can have what they have—if we just do what they do.

While wealth can give us opportunities—travel, philanthropy, beautiful homes, or education, for example—we hear countless stories of people who have it and yet are lonely and unfulfilled to their core. It is a curious quirk of fate that life lessons related to money can be the result of having too little of it—or too much!

A case in point was what Lynne Twist learned when she met with top women executives at Microsoft some years ago. As she describes in The Soul of Money, their average age was thirty-six, and their average net worth was $10 million. They rarely saw their families and for most, their lives centered around their computers. They took little time to enjoy their material possessions and experienced very little satisfaction from their money. In fact, using their wealth to buy child-care and home-care services mainly enabled them to work longer and harder. They hoped that someday their success would bring them freedom, but, by their own admission, they were not living the lives they wanted, and as a result, they were not free.

Clearly, material abundance isn’t the automatic ticket to freedom that many expect. More than one-third of households in the U.S. are wealthier than 95 percent of the world’s population and 99.9 percent of all the people who have ever walked this earth. Yet, when Mother Teresa visited our country, she said that the U.S. was one of the poorest nations in the world: We suffered from the poverty of loneliness.

Most people spend a lifetime trying to figure out the relationship between money and fulfillment. I know a woman in her eighties who is a multi-millionaire—but still clips coupons. What did she learn in childhood that creates that need today? I was taught as a child that “money doesn’t grow on trees,” which meant that the supply was limited. I carried that belief right into adulthood until I managed to shake loose that concept about money and replace it with the belief that the very nature of universal substance is abundance.

That made a difference, but other beliefs also ran deep, and conflict over money “issues” came up frequently between my husband and me. I thought these issues would disappear when we got divorced—but they didn’t. So whose issues were they in the first place? I’ve had to start digging deep again to uncover my deepest fears and worries about the financial aspect of my life—ones that continue to exist despite my success and a life filled with abundance on every level.

Well-known financial planner and television personality Suze Orman tells the story of how she and her mother arrived home one day to find her father’s business on fire. Everyone was safe—until her father realized that he had left his money in a metal cash register inside the building. He ran back to retrieve the cash but, unable to open the register, picked up the whole thing and carried it outside. When he threw it down, the skin on his arms and chest came with it.

That was the day, Suze says, she learned that money was more important than life. Making money would become the driving force in Suze’s life, until she realized that, despite having it, she was profoundly unhappy. She knew she had to change her relationship with money—and today, her wisdom about money and life are abundantly clear in her books and television appearances.

What’s your relationship with money and the material world? Is it friendly or hostile? Do you have too little or too much—or, like Goldilocks, have you got a financial life that’s “just right”? Is your financial life in sync with the spiritual part of you? Have you ever tried saying, “I have everything I need”? Are you able to tell the truth about money, not saying you can’t afford something if you really can, nor pretending you can when you really can’t? The lessons money can bring us are infinite and wondrous!

But perhaps the deepest lesson we can learn about money is summed up in these words by Nina Wise in her book A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: “Our longing for freedom cannot be satisfied by cars or houses or diamonds; by private jets or offshore bank accounts or caviar; by miniature computers or mighty weapons. Our longing for freedom can only be satisfied by recognizing that we are each sufficient as we are, and that what feeds us has nothing to do with what we buy and everything to do with an inherent vitality of soul.”