In today’s chaotic world, money is the energy we use as currency to change our lives. Financial joy is merging the transformational aspects of finding joy in your life with the practicalities of improving your financial situation.
Financial Joy offers a glimpse of how we can harness the universal principles of gratitude, intention, mindfulness, and compassion through the eyes of an experienced financial advisor. In my experience there is no one “right” way to approach sound financial management. But there are overarching principles that you can apply to your life that can guide you.
Let’s explore why you should consider making time to plan your financial life. By exploring the transformational effects of taking what you have right now, you can watch your dreams take shape.
When there is joy in our lives, time stands still and we can listen to what really matters. Ultimately this has nothing to do with money. And yet harnessing the energy of money can lead to a place where you can find joy, know how much is enough and how much you can give to others.
Financial Joy is Transformative
Life is complicated and messy. Even if you do plan for your future, life will throw you curve balls. All of us need to learn how to adapt and survive.
Before we jump into the techniques and practicalities of financial planning, let’s take a moment to think about why you’re doing this at all. After all, many people never do any financial planning. They live day-to-day and often don’t understand why things don’t get better. Financial planning takes your precious time and it’s not always fun. So why do it?
Let’s look at some typical financial situations before and after doing financial planning. Do you see some things you recognize?
- Every time the market goes through a correction, you wonder if you’re going to be OK. Your anxiety levels soar.
- You have no idea how to value your financial assets. No real clue if things are getting better or worse from year-to-year.
- You spend every paycheck and have very little savings. You are constantly frustrated when unexpected bills come up and you don’t have the savings to pay them. You get into a cycle of not paying one bill to pay another. You don’t really know where your money goes. It just goes.
- You have lots of accounts held at lots of places. Old brokerage accounts. Old retirement plans. You haven’t looked at how they are invested in a long time. You’re afraid to look.
- If you died, no one would have a clue where to find any of your important papers or passwords. Financial records are shoved in a drawer or closet in no particular order. Every time you look for something, you waste time and are frustrated.
- You know what you owe and what you own. You can see how your financial situation changed from last year to this year.
- You have prioritized how you want to allocate your cash flows. When you get a paycheck, money automatically flows into savings and into your checking account to spend.
- You have prioritized your financial goals. You see progress on both short-term and long-term goals.
- When the stock market corrects, you know you’ve planned for this and your long-range plan will still be OK.
- You feel a sense of financial freedom. You have what you need and can afford to do some of the things you really want to do with your life.
- Your accounts are consolidated and simplified. You don’t have lots of accounts all over the place anymore. It’s much easier to review your investments.
- You have automated your savings. Just like your retirement plan at work, you save a healthy amount each paycheck into your brokerage account. That money is automatically invested.
Please notice, nowhere did I list “You beat the market.” In the grand scheme of financial planning, that’s almost irrelevant. Today many people use passive investing where you buy the market as a whole—you don’t try to beat it. Most important is that you achieve your objectives—both financial and life goals.
Financial planning has the potential to help you live a life that helps make you happier. You can think of that transformative process as “financial alchemy.” Historically, alchemy is the process of turning lead into gold. And in a sense that’s what you’re doing here too.
If you want financial joy in your life, you’ll need work on two things: 1) cultivating your financial awareness and 2) recognizing and appreciating joy. Finding how the two interrelate can open this transformational process of financial alchemy.
Financial Joy Starts with Intention
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
By thinking about what you want to accomplish at the start of each day, you consciously plant the seed for what’s important to you. Even if the day is completely blown away with distractions and setbacks, your mind will lead you back to what you wanted to do that day.
There is joy in being able to focus on what you value. For example, I might start out with the intention to be more creative today. Or to be of service to each person that crosses my path. Or to notice something beautiful about my surroundings. This brings me joy.
Every time I think about money, I think about intention. What is this money supposed to do? Grow? Provide security? If you don’t know what your objective is, you can’t measure your progress. For example, we live in times of great financial volatility. If my intention is to provide stability in someone’s portfolio, then I invest in a way that makes that a priority. In that case, we aren’t trying to maximize returns. We are trying to help the person find a level of risk that is appropriate for their wellbeing.
At some point, you may need to ask yourself, how much is enough? When do you know if you have what you need to be happy and comfortable or whatever your intention is? The only way is by starting with this affirming step of creating your intention.
Financial Joy is Multi-Dimensional
Financial joy takes time to celebrate life right now. Of course we all want to think about where we want to go next and how to make that happen, but it’s important to also take time now to appreciate what we already have and how precious that is.
The great Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh is masterful in his teachings on mindfulness. He reminds us that we need to think about our breathing, our heartbeat, our steps as we walk.
“Breathing and walking in mindfulness puts us in touch with the miracles of life all around us, and our compulsive thinking will dissipate very naturally. Happiness arises as we become more aware of the many wonders available to us.”
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the basics—like breathing or walking. It is calming the mind so that you focus on where you are right now and what you are doing. Clearing the mind and focusing puts things in perspective. That in turn can lead to joy through simplicity and clarity.
Mindfulness can also help put time in perspective—especially when we get really busy. Part of being mindful may be to recognize the “sacred” time you are experiencing and to slow down your life enough to experience joy with the people you love.
In finance, mindfulness can mean taking stock of where you are. If you are always thinking of what you want in the future, you’ll never actually enjoy what you have in the present. Before you start thinking about where you want to go, you may want to take a moment to appreciate what you already have.
Being mindful can help you when you are overwhelmed. Focusing on the basics can help you put one foot in front of the other. As financial advisors, we witness our clients walk through all kinds of extremely challenging situations—death of a loved one, serious illness, loss of a job or home. Good advisors help as much behaviorally as they do numerically.
“Mindfulness means being truly present with life and allowing it to unfold without judging it.”
To me, gratitude may be the most important aspect of creating financial joy—or really any type of joy. There is no question that there is power in the simple exercise of counting your blessings.
It’s so easy to forget this simple lesson, especially as you find more and more financial success. Unconsciously we slip into wanting more and appreciating what we have less. I’ve experienced the phenomena of “spending creep” where you earn more money, but you still don’t seem to have “extra” money. That’s why it’s critical to periodically examine where your money goes.
We forget that it’s our choice how to allocate our money. We can choose to spend it on things that bring us joy. Once we have these things, we need to remember to appreciate what we have. It’s a trap to get so busy making more money that we no longer have time to enjoy what we have.
“The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”
Working Through Times of Hardship
Nkosi Johnson, a South African Aids activist, said at the age of twelve “Do all you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.” I try to remember that short little phrase whenever possible. I am inspired by people who have overcome life’s challenges and rise to the occasion.
It might not be obvious at first that you can find joy in times of great sadness or difficult circumstances. It takes a greater awareness to recognize this type of joy. Even when you have lost someone or face overwhelming challenges, there are little things that you can recognize that can bring you joy. You may find solace in nature or art or music. Or there may be people–children or grandchildren–that create a legacy that can continue to be your footprint in time.
It’s freeing to let go. But it’s not always easy to do. This can be as simple as clearing out your closet. Or as complex as selling a business that you’ve spent your life building. Once you get a taste of letting go, you’ll want more! But it’s hard to start that process.
Part of letting go is allowing someone else to have a chance to experience the joy of creation. It is an act of generosity. They may choose a different way of approaching a similar opportunity. I see this when we start to work with families who want to prepare their adult children to take on more responsibilities for inheriting wealth.
Change is inevitable. Transitions are at the heart of financial planning and when people most often seek out an advisor. Most change is emotional as well as logistical. Getting another perspective can help you make your best decision about what to do next.
A big part of our role as financial advisors is helping you clean up financial messes. That is especially true when we start a new engagement. There is a period of three months or so where we gather all the financial papers that you need to organize and start the process of consolidating your assets. Having someone motivate you to take the time to really think about what you want in your life can be a game changer on the way to finding financial joy.
“Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”
To truly appreciate the joy in your life, you have to stop doing and start being. This is part of where our advanced society has lost something that we used to know: we need time to appreciate what we have. Our culture encourages us to add more and more in our lives and that becomes unhealthy at some point. We’ve forgotten how to say no to taking on more and making time to just enjoy life.
When you go on vacation, you may get a glimpse of simply being. Why can’t this concept become more a part of daily life? Of course you need to go to work and take care of your families, but you also need to make “being” a priority in your daily life. You may meditate first thing in the morning before anyone else is up. You may carve out a couple hours on the weekend to just chill with no agenda. You may decide to say “no” more often.
In 2020, a global pandemic forced all of us to change virtually overnight. Working from home immediately changed our routines. Many of us found ourselves re-examining what and how we prioritized our lives. Although we grieve for the human tragedy caused by this disease, in some ways we have been given the gift of reorienting ourselves with space and time. By adapting, even to massive change, we may find we emerge from this with a greater sense of well-being born from unexpected circumstances.
When we slow down and develop a new state of awareness, well-being has a chance to emerge. We can count our blessings. We can forgive and forget. New ideas trickle up.
This state of well-being is a cornerstone of financial joy. It’s accepting what can’t change and finding new ways to thrive. It’s finding the right mix of risk and reward with your investments that allows you to be at peace. It’s balancing different aspects of your financial life and finding harmony. It’s putting your plan in place and knowing that you’ve planned for periods of downturns and that you will be OK. It’s being aware of what you can and can’t afford—and finding happiness in what you already have. It’s that sense of all is well even in times of great uncertainty.
It’s inspiring and exciting to think about how life may change for you by combining the elements of good financial planning and the creation of joy in your life. But it all starts with intention. What do you want from life?
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