Generally speaking, we focus almost exclusively on the financial side of the things. This week, I’m going to shift gears and share some of the things I’ve learned about overcoming fear, finding happiness, and achieving personal freedom. (Don’t worry. We’ll get back to the hard-core financial talk very soon.)
In December’s discussion of wealth habits, I talked about what T. Harv Eker calls “financial blueprints”. Actually, I talk about them all of the time. Understanding your money blueprint is a vital part of changing your relationship with money.
Our blueprints are created through lifelong exposure to money messages received from people around us, especially our family and friends, and from our country’s culture and mass media. Eker says the unfortunate truth is that most of us have faulty blueprints that prevent us from building wealth.
“When the subconscious mind must choose between deeply rooted emotions and logic, emotions will almost always win,” writes Eker.
He says that most of us are motivated by fear, especially when it comes to money. We don’t call it fear, though. We say we’re motivated by security. Eker notes — correctly — that fear and security are essentially two sides of the same coin. The tough truth is that money doesn’t dissolve fear.
Fear is not just a problem, it’s a habit. Therefore, making more money will only change the kind of fear we have. When we were broke, we were most likely afraid we’d never make it or never have enough. Once we make it, however, our fear usually changes to “What if I lose what I’ve made?”
Like Eker, I’ve found that fear motivates a lot of people. Instead of making decisions based on goals and desired outcomes, most folks make fear-based decisions. As a result, they get less out of life than they’d hoped, less out of life then they might if they knew how to overcome their fears. (For more about this, see last week’s article about scarcity mindset versus abundance mindset.)
I’m not judging. I’ve been there. For years, I let fear rule my life. But over the past decade, I’ve learned how to quell many of my fears. Better still, I’ve learned how to act in spite of my fear. As a result, my life (financial and otherwise) has drastically improved.
Today, I want to teach you how to destroy fear and build confidence. To begin, let’s talk about death.
Note: Long-time readers have seen some of this material in other forms. This is my attempt to gather all of it into one place.
The Regrets of the Dying
Australian singer-songwriter Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care for many years, spending time with men and women near death. As she worked with her patients, she listened to them describe their fear, anger, and remorse. She noticed recurring themes.
In 2009, Ware wrote about her experience in a blog post that went viral. She turned that article into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. When people die, she says, they often express one or more of the following sentiments:
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” People (especially men) often find themselves trapped on what economists call the hedonic treadmill. They work to achieve material wealth and status, which should bring happiness but doesn’t. Instead, they want more. So, they work harder to achieve even greater wealth and status, which should bring happiness but doesn’t. And so on, in an endless cycle. People trapped on the hedonic treadmill are never happy because their reality never meets their ever-increasing expectations.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” In order to keep the peace and avoid rejection, we sometimes bottle our emotions inside. But refusing to be open and honest leads to a life of quiet desperation. Sure, the barista at the coffeehouse might laugh if you ask her to dinner; but it’s also possible that dinner could lead to the love of a lifetime. On your deathbed, you’ll regret the things you didn’t say and do far more than the things you’ve done.
- “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.” In Aging Well, George Vaillant summarizes more than fifty years of Harvard research into adult development. “Successful aging [is] best achieved in relationship,” he writes. “It is not the bad things that happen to use that doom us; it is the good people who happen to us at any age that facilitate enjoyable old age.” In The Blue Zones, his book about populations of people that live longer than most, Dan Buettner writes that two secrets to a long and healthy life are making family a priority and finding the right “tribe”. At the end of their lives, people who failed to foster friendships regret it. (Here’s my summary of The Blue Zones.)
- “I wish I’d let myself be happier.” Happiness is a choice. Your well-being doesn’t depend on the approval or opinion of others. Happiness comes from one place and one place only: You. This idea, which is well-documented in happiness research, is the key to personal and financial success. (On Thursday, we’ll explore this notion at great length.)
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not the life others expected of me.” Ware says this regret is most common of all. “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it,” she writes, “it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.” We spend too much time doing the things that others expect of us. (Or the things we think are expected of us.) But living for the approval of others is a trap. We can never hope to please everyone. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to please anyone – other than yourself.
These regrets share a common theme. In each case, the dying lament having spent too much time seeking outside approval instead of focusing on their own feelings, values, and relationships. This is true regardless of wealth and social status.
Ware isn’t a nurse and she’s not a scientist – her observations are based on experience, not empirical data – but from my reading over the past decade, her conclusions match the research into happiness and human development.
Money can’t buy happiness – at least not directly. Money is a powerful tool, it’s true. Abused, it brings sorrow and suffering. Used wisely, it opens doors, delivers dreams, and fosters joy. Although wealth is no guarantee of well-being, the more money you have, the easier it is to flourish.
But here’s the truth: You don’t want to be rich – you want to be happy.
On your deathbed, you want to have lived a life without regret. To do that, you need to face and defeat your fears. You need to find joy in day-to-day activities, and use that happiness as a platform to procure passion and purpose. You need to forge freedom, both personal and financial. [Read more…]