Mastering Contentment to Discover Abundance — Part I
by Rachel McDonough, CFP®
Don't kid yourself. If you're not happy with what you already have, you won't suddenly become happy once you get what you want.
Discontentment is always rooted in either fear or greed. Sure, we could slap a pretty dress on fear and call it "insecurity" or we could pin a badge of honor on greed and call it "ambition." But if we are honest with ourselves, these are some pretty ugly monsters that we sometimes allow to latch onto us like leeches that suck the contentment, abundance, and joy right out of our lives.
The first steps to getting and staying free from these negative influences happen within the confines of our hearts and our minds. Thinking new thoughts about money, and changing our attitudes about wealth when needed, is more than half the battle.
When it comes to understanding the nature of greed, fear, contentment, and abundance, and their relationship to each other, the avocado can provide a useful illustration (As an aside, I happen to enjoy eating avocado, so to all the guacamole lovers out there, don't take any offense in what you're about to read).
On the outside is a tough, leathery, bumpy skin. Underneath that thin skin is the thick layer of green mushy stuff. At the very center is a seed that has the potential to produce a living tree, if properly germinated and nurtured.
Think of greed as the tough, but thin outer skin; fear as the thick, green mush. The seed represents contentment, and the potential tree that could grow out of contentment is abundance—the expression of your purpose. Greed is usually just a façade that covers up fear. And the seed of contentment that contains so much amazing potential for life, growth, and abundance, lies dormant until it is properly cared for. Mastering the art of contentment, then, is like being a good gardener so that you can grow a tree of abundance and produce good fruit from the goodness stored up in your heart.
Why do people lust after things like fancy cars, trendy clothing, and luxury homes? Sure, it's fun to get new stuff, but the fun is typically short-lived. Think of a luxury purchase you made in the past. How did you feel about that object when you first acquired it? How do you feel about it now?
A Lesson in Pink Sapphires
For me, a certain pink sapphire ring comes to mind. I regularly attend fundraising events. And while my personal preference is generally to make a donation outright rather than get caught up in bidding on auction items, at one particular gala, I bid on a flashy diamond-and-sapphire ring. I was admittedly enamored with this ring's very unique design. I bid, somewhat aggressively, on the ring, and reveled in the excitement of the auction.
Wearing my evening gown and sipping on a glass of wine was almost a role-playing type of environment, which was very different from my daily life. Ultimately, I saw my name flash across the screen as the winner. Of course, we use the term "winner" to describe this experience of being the top bidder at an auction, which again reminds us of our culture's view of consumption and spending.
After winning, and subsequently paying for my prize in split seconds, I put it on and enjoyed showing off my prize to other partygoers that evening—although it was a little too big for me and needed to be resized. As the months went by, I thought less and less about the lovely new ring in my jewelry box. Being busy, I found it impossible to make a special trip across the city to have the ring resized. Plus, I began to notice some things about the ring that I didn't particularly like. And it certainly sparkled less without the special showcase lighting that was used at the gala. Eventually, the ring joined other forgotten, so-called treasures in a box on a shelf.
Justifying my purchase, I reassured myself that the money went to a great cause, although it was more than I had intended to donate to that nonprofit. Plus, I rationalized, if I ever tired of the ring, I could always sell it. Yet, when I stripped away all of my rationalization and excuses, the annoying and unattractive truth was that I made a significant purchase, which I enjoyed for a short while until the newness wore off and disillusionment settled in.
While this decision did not permanently ruin my chance at achieving financial freedom, it did set me back a step. By saying "yes" to indulging my greed, I unintentionally said "no" to many other more important uses for that sum of money, uses that could have helped me live out my values and fulfill my purpose. I traded my money for clutter instead of true treasure.
Now in painfully honest self-assessment, I can tell you that being able to make a big purchase on a whim made me feel powerful. Although subtle and unspoken, my purchase sent a message to my friends around the table that I was a successful businesswoman with money to spare. It made me feel somehow more important and more influential. Do you see how my greed covered up my subconscious fear of insignificance?
Can you remember a time when you traded your money for clutter instead of using it as a tool to build a meaningful and fulfilling life? Even if it was only a small setback, you can see how greed and fear undermine purpose and intention.
Buying luxury items, of course, is not in itself a bad thing. We all have clients who have saved religiously for a particular purchase and enjoyed every minute of ownership. It's the unplanned, unbudgeted purchases that undermine good intentions and can get us into trouble.
Let's look at another way fear can manifest in our financial lives (Hint: it has nothing to do with sapphires).
Some People Believe They Will Never Have Enough
Shirley (not her real name) grew up in a home where there was seldom enough food to eat. Her parents made a series of poor financial decisions and had a hard time holding down a job, mostly because of alcoholism. She was the oldest and often rummaged through the small family garden to try to feed her two younger siblings. All three of them were very thin and, at times, survived on handouts from kind neighbors and relatives. They were usually dressed in often ill-fitting or stained hand-me-downs from older cousins.
Today, at age 50, Shirley has a propensity to stockpile and hoard inexpensive items, like used clothing and canned goods. While she has no debt and a considerable amount of wealth in land and investments, she still struggles with feeling like there will never truly be enough.
She takes pride in her ability to reduce or eliminate unnecessary spending and find great bargains. She laughs as she describes herself, "You know me...tighter-than-skin-on-a-grape!"
She never wastes money on frivolous luxuries, but is she experiencing financial freedom, contentment and abundance? Of course not. This is just a different song from the same old greed and fear duo, and this too, reveals a heart attitude that needs to be healed. Instead of a fear of insignificance, Shirley is experiencing a leftover fear of scarcity from her vulnerable childhood years. It's a deeply-rooted fear, covered up by a thin veneer of smug coupon clipping and bargain hunting.
The thing is, no amount of money (or canned goods) could ever buy total security. Neither can freedom from fear or anxiety be accomplished through extra savings or reduced spending. Consider this quote from author, Anne Ortlund, "Security is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God, no matter what the danger."
"I have enough," describes the state of contentment. We feel more empowered the moment we recognize that we are not in dire need. Intentionally choosing a less-expensive lifestyle helps us feel more content with what we have, which in turn allows us to acquire more wealth so we can have enough for our future needs and can remain content in the future as well. This is how contentment boosts our momentum toward financial freedom.
Next month, we'll explore how mastering contentment gives rise to abundance, the tree of life in your financial garden.
© 2014 Rachel McDonough
Rachel McDonough, CFP® is the founder of Make Your Money Count, LLC. She combines her insight from years living among some of the world's poorest people in Kenya, with her professional experience as a Certified Financial Planner™ designee to offer a refreshing perspective on money. She teaches that the best way we can attain true success is by making financial decisions that reflect our personal values and support our life's purpose
Rachel is the author of True Treasure: Giving, Saving & Spending According to Your Calling and is a frequent speaker on the topic of money and values. To be added to Rachel's email list and receive a free download, "6 Tips to Mastering Contentment," click here.
Make Your Money Count, LLC is an independent firm. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA / SIPC. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., 8200 Building, 5600 W 83rd Street, Ste 560, Bloomington, MN 55437, (952) 548-3111.
Any opinions are those of Rachel McDonough and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Examples are for informational purposes, individual results will vary. Raymond James does not endorse the book True Treasure: Giving, Saving & Spending According to Your Calling. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.
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