Question: What is an effective way to avoid the financial temptations in life?
Answer: WebMD says that the skin is the only part of the human body that can feel both pain and itch—an itch for its part can be triggered by something outside of the body or by something within. And while it feels good, scratching triggers mild pain in the skin that distracts it from the itch.
Sometimes the irritation caused by scratching releases the pain-fighting chemical serotonin, which can make the itch feel itchier. That is why the more we scratch, the more we itch. And the more we itch, the more we scratch. Too much scratching can lead to wounds, infections and scarring as well as anxiety and stress.
Money can trigger an itch. But do not get me wrong. Money has its place in life and society. To live a decent life, we all need money. That is why governments try to spread wealth around through social programs like low-cost housing, free education and even dole outs. After all, money is like fertilizer as it is useless if it is not spread.
Since the time of the early humans, the need to compare has been baked into their psyche. Comparing is an effective tool to see whether something is short or long, narrow or wide and heavy or light. Comparing is an integral part of self-preservation and a person is rewarded with happiness by flooding the brain with dopamine when a job is well-done in this field. It is when self-aggrandizement is confused with self-preservation that happiness takes on a false meaning.
Money can trigger that false sense of happiness (i.e. that itch). Instead of financial relief, scratching that itch leads to a desire for financial gain. Once that gain is made and happiness fades, the current state is looked upon as lacking, thus fueling that want for more financial gain. It then becomes an insatiable desire for "the good life." (Remember when you said that a rented apartment would be sufficient until your friends started to move into their own homes?)
Compounding this behavior is the practice of comparing oneself to others. As the saying goes, "We are always comparing our insides to other people's outsides." (Remember too how you were content with a 32-inch LCD TV until the appliance store delivery truck wheeled in a humongous screen LED TV into your neighbor's home?)
The book "The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness" by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz says that, "Life, even when it is good, is not easy. There is simply no way to make life perfect, and if there were, then it wouldn't be good. Why? Because a rich life—a good life—is forged from precisely the things that make it hard." The authors say that the key to a long and healthy life is good relationships.
Life's ups and downs are echoed by the phrase "this too shall pass." The phrase is from a fable of a powerful king who asked his wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. The wise men came up with a ring on which was etched "this too shall pass." But the phrase was double-edged because it can also mean that the king's happiness cannot be forever and even that shall pass.
To provide relief from an itch, WebMD recommends rubbing, patting, tapping, tightly holding or pinching the itchy area. What is also recommended is avoiding the itch triggers, cooling off, taking care of dry skin, applying lotion and even asking help from doctors. Such remedies have their own parallels when it comes to personal finance. Rubbing, patting, tapping, tightly holding or pinching the itchy area are all meant to distract from the itch.
So, taking the cue from the book, The Good Life, when a money-triggered itch comes along, distract yourself by focusing on how scratching that itch will impact your relationships with others. Buying the latest tablet may get you to interact more and faster with others. Just beware that it may come at the cost of you ignoring those who are physically close to you—for how many real conversations are now held over the dinner table?
On the other hand, avoiding the itch triggers, cooling off, taking care of dry skin and applying lotion attack the itch directly. As applied to personal finance, the next time you want to spend but really need to save, do not tell yourself to save a percentage of your income, which is always perceived as an outright loss. Instead, order yourself to live on the complement of that percentage of your income to see the foregone gain. And if you need to, there are many financial planners ready to give you the advice you need.
What is important is to not scratch the itch.
By the way, the authors of The Good Life also found that religious people were neither happier nor less happy than the rest of those studied in the group. Yet religious people found their expressions of faith were real sources of comfort in times of stress. Faith cannot make life on earth perfect. But faith can lead to that perfect life after this one. INQ
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