A common temptation is to judge our well-being not by what we have but by how much we have compared to others. Families at today’s poverty level live as well as the upper middle class did a few decades ago. Nevertheless, they still feel deprived. Luxuries ultimately disappoint us as we become accustomed to a higher standard of living. An indulgent purchase loses its luster, and the satisfaction it brings is fleeting.
The old saying is true: Money can’t buy happiness. Families earning $25,000 a year overspend trying to keep up with those making $50,000, who in turn attempt to live like those making $100,000. For many families the lure of consumerism wins out over qualities like foresight and patience that saving requires.
In his book “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.”
Most people’s values are not simply material. They long for spiritual meaning and fulfillment.
The Beatles were right too: “Money can’t buy you love.” You can’t pay someone a million dollars to love you more than a million dollars. Money can’t buy integrity or friendship either. You can often purchase a cheap imitation of these values but not the genuine article.
But money can be used to demonstrate and encourage what values are already there. Money can be used to show your love for someone, keep your integrity or help a friend in need.
Ken Rouse, author of “Putting Money in Its Place” has a simple exercise that helps people determine what they value most in life. Start by reviewing this list of 15 values:
- Aesthetics and culture
- Financial security
- Spiritual growth
Cross off 10 of the values, and keep the five most important to you. Then rank those five in order of importance. Look at your list and answer this question: Are you living your life and using your money in sync with your values? If you are married, ask your spouse to do the same exercise independently, and then compare your answers.
Passion makes life worth living. It is the drive to accomplish something worthwhile, the yearning to be part of something bigger than ourselves, the quest to find meaning in our lives. And it is the odyssey of sacrifice to finally accomplish it.
Passion has to be accompanied by grit, the willingness to sacrifice much to realize your dreams. Grit is the sticking power that overcomes great obstacles. Grit is the drive that refuses to be beaten in the dark hours when the emotion of passion has been spent. Grit is the stubbornness that keeps us pressing on even after others would have admitted defeat.
The really big commitments require both passion and grit. Otherwise halfway through the odyssey something more attractive will turn your head or your heart. Pursuing the siren’s call will shipwreck all your plans.
Surveys have found that people regret what they didn’t do more often than what they did. And when people express remorse about having done something wrong, it was usually what I call a “life buster,” one of those decisions that can greatly compromise your life.
Serious life regrets include marrying someone you knew in your heart wasn’t right for you, getting hooked on drugs or breaking the law. You can recover from these, but you will lament the spiritual death and wasted opportunities along the way. A good rule of thumb is always to ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If it might destroy your life, hesitancy is indeed a virtue.
Regrets about things we didn’t do are more subtle but also much more common. Our lives can change course dramatically and serendipitously all because of some small decision on our part. How many times have we heard the story of how a happily married couple met, only to be surprised it almost didn’t happen? If the worst outcome of a decision is a little embarrassment, perhaps the chance is worth taking.
We each long to participate in something significant and realize our greater passions. And that requires foresight, planning and forgoing our momentary desires. The choices we make each day determine the ones we will have the opportunity to make in the future. Without those hesitant, often stumbling first steps, we can’t even begin the journey. Often the first step is the hardest.
Barbara Sher, in “I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It,” suggests you pretend for one day that something you are considering is your life’s goal. For example, if your goal requires going back to school, start the application process. If your goal involves starting a business, work on a plan. Engines sometimes get stuck and need a whack to get them started. We are no different.
The Latin phrase “Audaces fortuna iuvat” translates as “Fortune favors the bold.” We commonly use a milder version of it in our family: “You do not have because you do not ask.” Often our hopes and dreams are unrealized because they are left unmentioned.
Voicing what we are passionate about can be scary. Beginning to act on our ideas can feel overwhelming. But courage isn’t a lack of fear; it’s action in spite of fear. And our fear may indicate we are on the quest of our lives.
Financial planning is primarily about living life and using money to further values that transcend the tangible. Reviewing your values may not result in a dramatic career change, but it will help you see ways to align your actions to your goals.
We are offering an hour-long free seminar, “Life Planning and Charitable Giving,” as part of the NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation this Thursday, May 12, 2011, at 10 a.m. at the Charlottesville Senior Center. A question-and-answer session will follow.
Photo by Megan Marotta