How to Worry Less About Money

June 1, 2013

Does money cause you stress? How to Worry Less About Money is a great article on to help think about money in a more positive way.

Here are some highlights of that article.

Addressing money worries should be quite different from dealing with money troubles.

Troubles are urgent. They ask for direct action. … By contrast, worries often say more about the worrier than about the world.

I like the differentiation between worries and troubles. Troubles are problems you need to fix. Spending too much or not earning enough are problems you can take action on. Worry about money is a state of mind. Worrying doesn’t help solve the problem, it only adds to stress.

It’s widely believed that after a certain level, increasing amounts of money stop increasing happiness. However, the article shows that money can increase flourishing.

Money can purchase the symbols but not the causes of serenity and buoyancy. In a straightforward way we must agree that money cannot buy happiness.

While the things money can secure — like power, influence, and access to resources — may not be shortcuts to serenity and buoyancy, Armstrong argues, they are inextricably linked to flourishing by enabling you to pursue the things that are important to you and, in the process, to contribute to the lives of others. Here, the relationship between amount of money and potential for flourishing doesn’t flatline the way it does in a more narrow conception of happiness

money isn’t a cause of flourishing but an ingredient in it, a mere resource with which to build the life we want, catalyzed by virtue

Distinguishing flourishing from happiness is important. Obviously, more stuff, particularly if it does not really aid in leading a more fulfilling life, is not going to endlessly increase happiness. If you don’t have a car, maybe an old jalopy will increase your happiness. However, trading from a new $40,000 car to a new $80,000 car is not likely to improve your life in any meaningful way.

Money spent to help you fully realize your goals improve your ability to maximize your service to the world, can potentially endlessly aid your flourishing. For example, a billionaire is not going to get happier buying more personal possessions. However, if she were to give up her fortune to aid social causes, or grow a company that brings about good in the world, more money will improve her well-being.

Reminiscent of Ben-Franklian virtues like temperance, frugality, and moderation is another essential skill in alleviating our money worries — the ability to distinguish between wants and needs. The need-desire distinction, Armstrong suggests, is useful in warding off mere desires, like the longing for the latest shiny gadget, even if it’s of little utilitarian value, or that sleek new bike, even if the old one works perfectly fine.

There is a very imperfect relationship between desire and flourishing. Desire aims at pleasure. Whereas the achievement of a good life depends upon the good we create. And the opportunity to follow whatever desire one might happen to have is the enemy of the effort, concentration, devotion, patience and self-sacrifice that are necessary if we are to achieve worthwhile ends.

I like the phrase, “the achievement of a good life depends upon the good we create.” A good life is not measured by what we have, it’s measured by what we do.

There are quite profound reasons why we should care simultaneously about having and doing. Both are connected to flourishing.

What we do with our lives is obviously central to who we are. What we expend our mental energy on, what we put our emotional resources into, where we deploy courage or daring or prudence or commitment: these are major parts of existence and are inevitably much connected with work and earning money. And we need these parts of existence in order to find proper application in activities that deserve our best efforts. We don’t’ want to reserve our central capacities for the margins and weekends of life.

At an individual level, one is trying to find a way of making this happen in one’s own life. But because intrinsic worth is not just what is good for me, but what is actually good, this is a public service as well. It’s not greedy to want to make quite a lot of money — if you want to make it as a reward for doing things that are genuinely good for other people.

Ultimately, making lots of money is not bad. What’s important is how that money is earned and what that money is spent on. It you are destroying your soul in a company you do not believe in, just to earn enough to keep your consumer lifestyle afloat, then it’s very likely your relationship with money will be unhealthy and stressful, regardless of your income level.

In contrast, someone making much less money, doing personally rewarding work, who is able to limit needless consumption will have a more comfortable connection to money.

Are you proud of the work you do? Is it contributing to the world in a meaningful way?

Are you spending money to satisfy your own pleasures or is it to maximize your contribution?