Financial health - a poor relation of wellbeing?
In writing “The Leader’s Guide to Resilience” I identified a number of “pillars” which researchers had previously identified as key to wellbeing:
The Defence Logistics Agency proposes 4:
Mental health, Physical health, Social health, Spiritual health
The Wellbeing Project suggests 5:
Energy, Future focus, Inner drive, Flexible thinking, Strong relationships
…as does “Bounce back”:
Self care, Self awareness, Mindfulness, Relationships, Purpose
Dr Arielle Schwartz offers 6:
Growth mindset, Emotional Intelligence, Community connections, Self-expression, Embodiment, Choice & control
…so does EQ Works:
Satisfaction with lifestyle, Supportive relationships, Physical Wellbeing, Solution-focused coping, Emotion-focused coping, Positive beliefs
Knowing what keeps your “temple” standing will be essential not only for being able to thrive by pushing boundaries or reaching upwards in “normality”, but for rebuilding and surviving when things get difficult. This is applicable on the large, as well as small scale – even if you need the motivation to achieve a small goal – attending to one of your “pillars” may energise you enough to keep going.
What I found surprising was that financial health did not feature.
In The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness (2018) I had already identified this omission – and ask you now:
Do you know what your day-to-day spending is?
Do you over-indulge or splurge financially and feel guilty afterwards?
Do you ignore bills and statements?
Do you know a) if you are in debt; and b) if so how much you owe?
Not only does awareness of our finances give us a sense of control (otherwise why would there be so many anecdotal reports of people who know they have overspent deliberately ignoring their bills?), but it is certainly possible that personal spending habits can give an indication of our behaviours in other areas of our lives.
While being able to work within a budget can teach us discipline, and bring a sense of confidence, freedom and peace of mind, debt can have tragic emotional consequences. According to Money & Mental Health (2021) “Over 420,000 people in problem debt consider taking their own life in England each year…[and] more than 100,000 in problem debt attempt [it].” And worse, the pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult situation with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that over 800,000 Brits lost their jobs during the global pandemic.
It is not so much that “we don’t need money to enjoy life”, but rather we need no excess of it to experience joyful abundance…we do need money to survive.
Unfortunately, one PSHE session in year 7 on budgeting may be neither helpful nor meaningful when it comes to navigating our financial path in adulthood, and even though bank statements are easily accessible at the touch of a biometric recognition sensor, we do need to be a little bit more mindful when it comes to money.
While reasons one gets into debt are highly individual, there is a very natural bias which may work against us when it comes to rational decision making.
The problem of Hyperbolic discounting or The Present Bias
Termed “Hyperbolic Discounting” by psychologist Richard Herrnstien because of the model that could be used to illustrate the phenomenon; the “present bias” suggests that people tend to choose a “small-but-soon” reward over a “large-but-later” one. In other words, more people would prefer £100 now rather than £110 in a month – BUT if the delay were now eg: £100 in a month, or £110 in two months – then people are happier to wait.
Unfortunately, this behaviour can be exploited by marketing schemes such as “Buy now pay later”, or “Short term loans” – where the reward is immediate, ie. You can have the thing NOW rather than saving up (the wait period) for when you can afford it…but we do not always think of the future.
This in turn can, arguably, see its roots in evolution – we were originally built to survive. Our environment was more dangerous, alliances perhaps more fragile, and our own lifespan largely curtailed. As such “a bird in hand” probably really was worth more than “two in a bush”…best take what you can of the limited resources available now in case they are not available later.
What we need to remember, however, is that times have changed. Our lifestyles have changed, and what we can come to expect of them have changed – therefore planning for our future self is perhaps not just sensible, but essential.
But what about “carpe diem”?
Admittedly, coming from the mindset of positive psychology and the importance of “now” this approach doesn’t necessarily sit well with me at face value. But certainly, as many entrepreneurial books would argue, a little investment now (literally) can pay dividends later…but many people do not always have the patience. As devil’s advocate I might also say – in some cases, there can also be some very back luck which gets in the way – a global pandemic for example – was unexpected and unfortunately “reset” our values to “surviving” rather than thriving. What future was there to plan for when we really were getting through day by day?
Striking a healthy balance
However, in broad terms at least, times have changed and so have we.
In fact, in a longitudinal study conducted in Stanford by Mischel in 1972 children ages 3-6 were asked to either choose a reward now, or wait a while for a bigger reward later. The children were then left alone with the reward (either a marshmallow or pretzel stick) as the researcher exited the room. It was found that the children able to wait longer attained better life outcomes – although the research has been challenged on the variable of baseline socio-economic status. However, the test remains notable that delayed gratification, in modern life, may bring greater rewards than instant satiation.
It is simply worth remembering that planning AND adaptability are the areas that serve us best in uncertainty – and along with that, keeping one’s wits about us. In other words, if you are making an investment, do your research to make sure it is a safe one, especially if you don’t have a “Plan B”…but at the same time, on something where the loss is not impactful, but the gain can be great - it can be exhilarating to throw caution to the wind. It is our judgment that needs to evolve along with our lifestyles.
Some tips for financial health
Know your finances
- Be aware of how much you have and owe, and if the latter have a clear plan to get out of debt. If you are really struggling, charities such as Step Change can be very helpful
- Shop smart:
o Have a list
o Keep basic books
o Be mindful that we tend to spend more when away from home, and when we are with others
o Consider using cash (when permitted in stores)
- Make considered investments – poor investments can include lending…never offer what you cannot afford to lose
- Remember that money is not a substitute for love
- Spend mindfully on the person you WANT to be.
- Invest in YOURSELF – you are your biggest asset, no-one can tax you or steal you or devalue you – unless you allow it!!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt