I’ve been stewing on something for a while.
I’m convinced that self-induced financial problems are the result of misunderstanding one’s self. I think people who put themselves in severe financial distress are looking for satisfaction in things that money can’t buy, yet they use money, often money they don’t have, in an effort to buy happiness.
Let’s first examine satisfaction. Satisfaction occurs when you are fulfilled or gratified. We can feel this way in a number of ways. We can be satisfied when we finish a tedious project. We can be satisfied when we receive compliments. We can be satisfied when we achieve an athletic goal. Yet the most common vehicle of satisfaction is commerce. And this usually occurs when we are unsatisfied and are trying to get satisfied.
Next, let’s examine what caused your dissatisfaction. Was it your job? Was it your marriage? Was it your financial situation? To me, this is the most important part of the satisfaction problem. If you are constantly spending money in order to feel fulfilled, then what is it that is making you feel so damn empty in the first place? If you can identify this, then you should be able to curb your spending. Yes, this is a higher level conversation. Believe it or not, no matter how much you want that $1,000 purse or that $5,000 TV, there is something else that would satisfy you much more than either of these things. And this thing will cost you absolutely nothing.
Here’s the test. For a moment, assume everything you want is free. Your house is free. Your food is free. And all of your clothes are free. Does this leave you fulfilled? Absolutely not. It may bring you temporary happiness, but it is far from fulfilling. The cause of your dissatisfaction is not addressed when you separate items from their price tags. The cause of your dissatisfaction cannot be absolved via supplementation. You can’t add things to your life to remove dissatisfaction. You can try to do this, but you will always still be dissatisfied at your core.
I’ve seen several people stay in jobs they hated simply because they were paid tremendous amounts of money. They used this money to relieve their dissatisfaction. The more they bought, the more frustrated they got at how dissatisfied they were. Sometimes this became obvious in just a couple of years, but it most often took 10-20 years to figure out. The temptation in reading this is to think “but if they quit their job then they can’t afford the house and the lifestyle they currently have.” You are correct if you are thinking this. However my argument is that people who are truly satisfied won’t care if they can’t have the things that formerly temporarily satisfied them.
If you are thinking “I couldn’t possibly be satisfied with less house or less money,” then just know that you are in the majority. But think about it for a moment, the fulfillment in your life doesn’t have to come from things. If you don’t think you will be satisfied with fewer things, you are wrong. In my opinion, you have created a life in which things have become your measure of satisfaction. This isn’t a permanent problem. And the crazy thing is that it’s not that hard to correct. It takes a while to get there mentally, but the adjustment itself is simple.
I speak from experience. In 2007 I made more money than I had ever earned before, or have ever earned since. But I was very dissatisfied. I achieved fulfillment by spending the money that I made on superfluous items. Some five years later I make much less money, and I don’t really care. I don’t measure my success by my tax return. I’m very satisfied, and money really has nothing to do with it. In fact, I believe that my satisfaction enhances my ability to make money. Whereas my income will eventually reach 2007 levels sometime in the near future, I don’t really care. I’ll continue to give money to the causes I care about, and continue to take away money’s power over me. Enough about me. This isn’t about me, this is about you.
Look at your current financial stress point. Is it the result of you seeking satisfaction in the wrong things? Were you trying to seek satisfaction in order to replace your ever-present feeling of dissatisfaction? If this process has put you in the hole, then you have some scrapping to do in order to get back to even. Once you solve your financial problems, then you can start to make big choices on satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
This post isn’t necessarily about changing jobs, but it could be. It also could be about getting healthy, repairing relationships, or renewing your spiritual health. I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Am I wrong? If so, let me know. Have you removed dissatisfaction from your life? If so, tell me about it.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.