Updated: 7 hours ago
'A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.' - Jonathan Swift
I am part of a wider problem of people not talking about their money. It has even been suggested, people would rather talk about their sex lives than their money. Secrets deny other people the benefit of our experience. So to be part of a positive change I will use this blog to betray my relationship with money.
My emotions while writing this blog included disgust and excitement. Both at being cheapened by a desire for money and at the thought of reducing my desire for money through disclosing that desire. Guilt and shame at having more money than some other people. Envy at having less money than some others. As if changing my desire for money, or the amount of money I have, would create a consistently better life. Emotions that suggest the relationship I have with money is important to me and complex. I begin by asking what a desire for more money may tell us about what we want.
What do we want, when we want more money?
I have at times secretly seen the amount of money I have as an entitlement. A difference, a marker or a permission to transgress. A reinforcement of a fantasy of superiority. A power to make other people do as I want rather than they need. A temptation to enter into a 'grubby business' in other words. John Paul Getty summed it up :
'Money is like manure. You have to spread it about or it smells.'
Not many people want to smell like that. We also know if we obtain more money other people will have relatively less. A disparity that can disconnect us from other people. An outcome that has significant negative health consequences (Perry, 2020.) These potential harms suggest, that having more money, could become a zero sum game where, both parties lose. So having more money might be too expensive. What about having less money in order to fulfil our desires?
What do we want when we want to less money?
'Money often costs too much' - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Money can be seen as a responsibility, a burden to act in ways that reflect our relative wealth. Money may provide us with additional choices but too many choices can be stressful. Money can encourage avoidance of necessary but difficult choices in life. We may fantasise about a 'simpler' life with less money. Glamorise poverty as a purer or nobler way to be. However actually having less money may leave us in relative poverty. In comparison to other people in our immediate environment. An outcome known to be psychologically challenging.
Alternatively, we may be attracted to the identity of benefactor, philanthropist, giving alms to the poor. A role only available, of course, if we actually have more money than we need. These ideas suggest that having less money may feel attractive but is sometimes directly contrary to the goals we want to achieve. What then might be the alternatives to having more, or less, money to get what we want?
Diversifying how we get what we want
How could we have the same amount or less money, while having more of the things we want? Well, money is a promise for future action. Bank notes are often titled 'I promise to pay the bearer.' However, money is not the only way we can obtain promises for future action.
In my experience, promises of future action can also be obtained through secure attachments to other people, interpersonal consistency, a shared sense of fairness and loyalty. Additional means of managing our anxiety about a largely uncertain future. In these ways we could become richer, and healthier, without having a different amount of money.
Money is also a source of power but it is not the only source of power. I would suggest that our emotions, identity and expectations also exercise power over ourselves and other people. Altering our relationships with these experiences could be another way of diluting our dependence on money to obtain and exercise power.
So if we agree that, we cannot all have the purchasing power of millionaires and that being one comes with significant drawbacks. How much money is enough, too much, or too little for each of us? In the remainder of this blog, I argue that it is our actual needs, rather than our desires, that determine how much money is enough for any of us.
Identifying what we need rather than what we want
'Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.' - Epictetus
Firstly, can we be honest about what we need, rather than desire? For example I feel that I need care, support, attention and affection. To be fed, stroked, desired and excited. Meeting these needs consistently seems to be only partially related to much money I have. Instead knowing my needs allows me to prioritise meeting them over how much money I have.
I also know, it is impossible to totally monetarily compensate for the deficits of these needs in my past. I wonder then could we instead grieve their incompleteness in the past, present and future? Accepting we will not get what we need or want. Learn to enjoy wishing for wishes sake. Enjoying the wanting without having. Whilst adding effective grieving to our list of needs. I will now reflect on what we have learnt from this brief examination.
'Too many people spend money they earned...to buy things they don't want..to impress people that they don't like.' - Will Rogers
In this blog I have briefly admitted to myself, and yourself, part of my complicated relationship with my money. How it fits with what I see as a problem of not talking about our money. In doing so I have experienced, and contained, uncomfortable and pleasurable emotions. Identified alternative strategies to getting my desires and needs met. Including enjoying wanting something without having it. In doing so, I have placed my money in new helpful psychological and emotional containers. A useful exercise for me and hopefully you too. I thank you for reading about my experience and I wonder about yours?
Phillips, A., (2013). The analyst & the bribe, video recording of paper delivered to the BCLA, retrieved: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8wGZt-4ASg
Perry, A., (2020). A matter of life and death, retrieved : https://www.drandrewperry.org/post/a-matter-of-life-and-death