Psychology of money: the problem is not finances

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The thought of money never leaves you in peace: either because we never seem to have enough or because the expenses always seem too much. But why is this so? What concerns does it hide?

Freud said that questions relating to money are treated with the same reserve and the same embarrassment as those relating to sexuality . Nowadays we could say that one is all too cleared by the previous modesty that overshadowed it, while the Psychology of money still seems to represent a difficult topic to discuss. , full of ambivalences and reservations …

Those who pursue it at all costs, those who reject it, those who never have enough and those who have the problem of having too much. But it’s not just a question of quantity.


Money problems and worries

In his very interesting book “Money is not the problem” (Guanda, 2013), John Armstrong invites the reader to distinguish between two often overlapping elements: money problems and worries . raised by them.

The former represent an essentially pragmatic question question : having to cope with a need.

The worries associated with money , on the other hand, are something more pervasive, they draw inspiration from the practical problems mentioned above but involve “intangible” and, often, non-marketable aspects relating to our identity , self- esteem , expectations / objectives and so on.

Money therefore acts as a “catalyst” for a whole series of intangible problematic issues relating to our person, issues on which it is useful to try to clarify also in order to deal with money in a more prudent, serene and satisfying way .


Psychology of money: does money make you happy?

Why does money have such complex psychological meanings? Freud (1908), with regard to the anal personality , observed for example that often avarice was a characteristic found in people who temperamentally tend to govern anger and fear through obsessive mechanisms : trying to keep everything under control without ever letting go or letting go. emotion, nor spending money lightly.

“Withholding” the money , weighing each expense would reveal, in this sense, a perennial indecision regarding the best choice, the one with less risk and less unexpected events that leads to brooding without finding a solution.

In other cases, far from infrequent, money represents a way to convey affection , money and the material goods associated with it end up becoming emotional substitutes : you can spend money to compensate for the time you are unable to spend with a son, to remedy a couple problem and so on.

But you can also spend money to distract yourself from anxiety or disturbing emotions – the famous compulsive shopping , in the same way that others succumb to emotional hunger. . These behaviors sometimes lead to overt psychopathology hiding great emotional distress.

Another rather frequent case is that in which a miraculous power is associated with money – which one does not have but which one hopes to possess in the future. : if only one could have more money all the problems would be solved! Marital problems, problems with children, problems with self-confidence, self-esteem, etc.

It is true, as they say, that if money does not bring happiness, crying over one’s problems lying in the Maldivian sun can still be an attractive prospect; however, the fact that money is not necessarily associated with happiness should be taken rather seriously.


Psychology of money and intangible needs 

This is what Richard Easterlin (1974) called the “paradox of happiness” . Indeed, if it is true that, within certain limits, happiness and well-being perceived by people show a significant correlation with the socio- economic level , once a certain threshold of “wealth” is exceeded, this direction seems to reverse following a curve that begins and is descending.

The same paradox would also be true on a global scale: as the GDP of a country increases, the level of happiness perceived by its inhabitants does not necessarily increase. This is both because the GDP does not take into account goods that are not economically “measurable”, and because it does not take into account the distribution of wealth in the various segments of the population.

In short, money correlates with our well-being, certainly for those who are our most basic needs , those basic needs that Maslow  (1954) identified in the satisfaction of physiological needs (hunger, thirst, etc.) and the need for security .

Continuing along the pyramid of needs, however, we encounter other needs that are progressively more and more uncoupled from the material level: the need for belonging (relationships of friendship, family affections, emotional and sexual intimacy), the need for esteem (feeling that we are capable and worthy people) and need for self-realization (being able to creatively realize oneself, express one’s personality in what one does).

Thinking that the satisfaction of these needs can be “bought” , that is, obtained through money (remember money as a substitute for affection?), Is misleading, illusory and potentially harmful both to one’s finances and to one’s psychological well-being.


Money is one of the ingredients …

What to do with the money then? Do they serve to live well or, as medieval monks claimed, do they represent “corrupters” of the soul ? In fact, two apparently opposite attitudes between people can be found with regard to money: on the one hand, those who consider it a sort of “divinity” (a magical solution in fact) and who dedicate their lives to chasing it (thus reversing the means with ends).

On the other hand, those who consider money something “dirty” , an “evil” , a mere “appearance” and reject it, claiming a greater authenticity of life and values.

In both cases we are dealing with defensive attitudes that denounce a difficulty in recomposing a split between materiality and immateriality, between appearing and being, between means and ends …

Armstrong in his book invites us to reconsider money, neither good nor bad , neither an absolute evil nor a magical solution to all problems. Money can rather be considered as “one of the ingredients” useful / necessary for a satisfying life. No amount of money and no material goods can really increase our self-esteem or make our emotional relationships more rewarding.

However, we can use or intelligently procure the money we need by assigning them a place in the larger “toolbox” in our life plan.

After all, what is money if not an energy reserve ready to be transformed into infinite possibilities? It is up to us not only to have a business that allows us to translate our efforts into money , but also to transform that money – as Armstrong writes – into lasting and valuable goods and experiences. 

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