How To Not Feel Financially Behind

Photo: Adam Przewoski

We all suffer from our desires. Our desires to have what we want when we want it, all at once.

When you drive to work on any given day, you’ll spot an expensive European car on the road. If you follow the car with your eye, you may see it crawling up a driveway to a bigger house than yours.

If you go to school, you may be surrounded by other students whose parents have a lot of money. They eat out every night and party with abandon. They’ll graduate with no debt.

And you’ll inevitably think, “Why can’t I be wealthy, like them?”

If you took a breath, you may begin to realize that what you’re really asking in that moment is, “Why can’t I be happy, like them?”

In that moment, you’re making the assumption that happiness can be bought. It can’t. In that very human moment of envy, you’re making the cognitive error that having money means fulfillment, when fulfillment is a state of mind. We are conditioned to think like this. The reality is that you have no idea if the people in the expensive cars or your rich peers at school are happy or miserable.

When you look outward for fulfillment, you look in all the wrong places. Outward financial questions look like these.

How can I eat at the right restaurants? Live in the right neighborhoods? Drive the right car? Join the “best” gym? Shop at the right supermarkets? Wear the right clothes? Send the kids to the right schools?

You can do all of these things and still not get any closer to reaching financial balance in your life, because you’re aspiring to live someone else’s life. Your heart will still ache. You will still feel financially behind.

When you look inward, you begin to have a real conversation about your personal finances. Your questions become:

How much money do I need to fulfill my purpose? How much do I need to stop spending on coffee in order to start saving for retirement? What apartment can I afford that leaves me some money at the end of the month to fund a business? What do I need to make my life fulfilling to me and what do I need financially to get there?

You become your own measuring stick for financial success. You stop comparing yourself to myths. You begin to work with your truth — whether you’re productively working toward your vision of fulfillment, or whether there are changes you need to make with your spending, saving, and investing in order to feed your soul more.

The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Something magical happens upon this acceptance.

We say no to eating out so that we can put ourselves through night school, and it’s okay.

We don’t go out with our friends even though we want to and work instead so that we can help our elderly mother or father pay their bills.

We give up buying coffee (it’s not a healthy habit anyway) and choose to invest the savings in hopes of aggregating a nest egg.

And though we may still feel pangs of desire for wanting things that are lower on our own priorities list like fancy meals out and a car that has all the trimmings, we feel grounded because we’re in touch with our deeper goals and are working toward them. We feel productive.

Beyond funding the bare minimum of what is needed for you to be physically healthy, money is a wasted asset without a deeper target. Pleasures and comfort can be exchanged for money, but not sustainable happiness. They are different things.

The next time you see someone’s painfully curated image of success driving next to you on the road, tell yourself the only truth there is. “I have no clue as to whether they’re happy or broken. I only know me, and I know where I’m going.”

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