Posts Tagged ‘money’

“…Pursuing an artistic career gives you permission to divorce your sense of self-worth from the economic marketplace.” – Rahul Kanakia

I was raised in a household that tied together self-worth, the value of any given activity, and finances. Being able to be financially independent was seen as the pinnacle of achievement. Education was important, but primarily as a means to an end, the end being making money. (Why my maintaining a 4.0 grade point average was so important therefore becomes a bit of a mystery, since my family couldn’t afford to send me to a prestigious university, student loans were frowned upon, and being able to get all A’s has very little to do with earning money outside of school. But I digress.)

I remember the revelation my senior year of high school when I met a musician who made ends meet with a variety of accompaniment gigs and modeling for art students. I had no idea that was a choice people could make: that money, instead of being the entire goal, could merely be the means to an end, the end in this case of being an artist. My whole conception of what my life could be changed.

But even so, the insidious feeling that the financial returns of an activity and its worth were linked persisted. In my father’s eyes, I didn’t feel like my music was terribly important until it became my means of supporting myself. I was forbidden from even considering pursuing a BM (Bachelor of Music) in college instead of a BA in case it affected my future job prospects.  (As it turns out, it wouldn’t have made any difference.) I always had doubts as to whether I was a real musician until I opened up my music studio and it became successful.

Photo Credit: StGrundy via Compfight cc

Of course, that was all very silly. Being a musician is much more about attitude than it is about money. Many musicians never make any money at all through their music. Similarly, being a writer is more a state of mind than anything else. It has to do with discipline and dedication, time spent and patience to practice, and the personal importance of it. The identity of being a writer has very little to do with money.

At this point, I have, as Rahul puts it, divorced my sense of self-worth from the economic marketplace. I am grateful that I was taught the skills to be financially responsible, but I don’t believe who I am and how I feel about myself should have anything to do with where my money comes from or how much money I have.

Ultimately, attaching our self worth to anything outside of ourselves is a risky business. The kind of self esteem that endures through the ups and downs of life comes from inside. The outside will disrupt it, of course, but so often that interference turns out to be only noise.

Being an artist is useful not so much for finding a substitute to tie to self worth (a recipe for unhappiness in the tumultuous world of rejections, revisions, and critics). Instead, being an artist can inspire us to ask questions that allow us to make different choices about our relationships with ourselves.

What is your relationship with money? How much does it affect how you feel about yourself?

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My husband found this really fascinating paper entitled “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right.” Since I recently visited the topic of the connection between money and happiness here on this blog, I simply had to devour the entire article. It is, however, quite long, so I am going to choose a few salient points to discuss here.

Photo by Michael Porter

First off, the article says that people with more money aren’t that much happier than people with less, but that they are generally more satisfied. I found this distinction interesting because on first thought, I wouldn’t have thought the two states were really so different. But of course they are. We can have all the stuff we want, we can have the funds to take trips around the world, eat fancy food, and afford other experiences we desire, and be very satisfied that we can do and have all of this. It doesn’t follow, however, that this satisfaction will result in increased happiness, hence the stereotype of the poor little rich girl who has everything money can buy and yet is completely miserable. There are serious problems that have nothing to do with money.

Apparently happiness also depends a lot on our past and future relationship with a given expenditure. Anticipation greatly increases happiness, sometimes more than the actual purchase or experience. I’m going to climb out on a limb here and suggest this has something to do with positive reinforcement, ie I’m excited about my trip to Ashland, I’m thinking about it with excitement, and therefore I’m more likely to approach other aspects of my life in a positive way, which creates a happiness feedback loop. I can definitely experience a stress feedback loop (I’ll be feeling lots of stress and therefore everything seems more overwhelming, even things that would normally be no big deal, creating more stress, etc.), so why not a happiness one as well?

Fond memories of an expenditure will also increase overall happiness, which offers one explanation for why people love to show photos from their past travels and happy occasions. For example, I have wedding pictures and presents scattered throughout my living room that regularly remind me of that event. This is one reason experiences tend to trump material items in the happy-making: we’re more likely to think back to an amazing experience than to an item (to which we have grown more accustomed).

Another point the article brings up is the power of the little things to affect our happiness. The authors suggest making many small purchases instead of a few big purchases. I don’t completely agree with this point because, as we just discussed, often big purchases (trips, weddings, etc.) cause more anticipation and memory, both because we’re excited about them and because it takes longer to save up for a big purchase, increasing the anticipation even further. But scattering smaller purchases throughout our lives (a special coffee drink, a new favorite song or piece of sheet music, a massage, going to a movie) keeps us savoring the texture of life while offering much-needed variety. Of course, appreciating the small things affects happiness whether money is being spent or not, which is part of the beauty of it.

Ultimately what this article leads me to think is something I like to say anyway; namely, that we can contribute to our own happiness through learned strategies, introspection about our priorities, and being present to enjoy both the everyday moments of happiness and the rare, large thunderclaps of happy. Money takes away worries, but it doesn’t automatically bring happiness in their stead. That is something we have to do for ourselves.

What is something little that has made you happy today? For me, I’m wearing a scarf in this fabulous shade of purple that my husband bought for me on our trip to London last year and gave me for Christmas. So I have a warm neck, and every time I look down, I think, “What a great color. What a great husband. What a great trip. Christmas!”

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