Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Money is a Tool

That's all it really is.  A tool.  Like many other tools, you can choose the budget, mid-range, or luxury version.  Sometimes the level of tool you purchased can compromise the integrity or quality of the work you perform with it.  I have a diagonal scar on my left thumb given to me by a $20 matte cutter that taught me that lesson.

I have been so fortunate in my life.  I have been so lucky.  I think of the luxury version of money being a fancy hotel with all white and gold fixtures.  I really hate white and gold fixtures.  What I love is a patina with rich deep colors and a bit of texture and dirt.  That budget to mid-range lifestyle suits "me to a T" as long as I add in some perks like traveling wherever I like.  (Why, in my head, does it feel like there are rules that mid-range life-stylers are only supposed to take driving vacations?  Or if they do fly, they are only allowed the continental US?)  Nearly nothing about the luxury lifestyle actually appealed to me, so I never had to figure out how to attract that.

See I'm lucky.  I "got it" long ago.  Well, at least about money.  Money isn't love.  It isn't evil.  It cannot buy you happiness.  See the trick there is, it can buy you things that you may see as the elements which will make you happy.  However, the end result is solely dependent on whether or not you clearly discerned what would bring you happiness.  We have endless examples where someone tried just that and failed.  So we know it isn't a sure deal.  It isn't certain enough to write a mathematic equation around.

X (Money) + Y (Things Money Can Buy) = Z (Happiness)

Z would have to have some sort of modifier.  Something that quantified the element of self awareness.

That would be a good descriptor, right?  Self awareness.  Something to describe how accurate you are in pre-determining what will make you happy.  I mean, we don't just think it's a crap shoot.  We don't just think, "Ok, I'll drop a few grand on this 52" plasma to watch the ball games.  MAYBE that will make me happy.  Or maybe it will be like having a root canal.  Who knows?"

No, I think we're pretty accurate, at least in choosing things we will enjoy.  We just don't really seem to think about whether that enjoyment will be long lasting or not.

You'd think I'd given this a lot of thought.  Not really.  What I did give a lot of thought was my mother and why she behaved in the ways that she did.  My mother loved to shop.  My mother loved to buy things.  I think she loved to shop a little bit more than she loved to buy things, but she loved to shop and buy things way more than she liked actually having things.  Don't get me wrong.  To anybody other than me, my mother would cut you to the quick if you were taking something that was hers.  But other than the notion of how much stuff she had, she didn't care as much about those things.  You could watch dust collect on some of them or notice packages that had never actually been opened.  It didn't take me long to realize what she loved was shopping and buying.  At first I saw it in some sort of terms of "the thrill of the hunt."  Except I realized my mother's shopping style was much more like "shooting fish in a barrel." It must have been then that my mother talked about her childhood and repeated one of her stories.

I need to explain.  That was what my mother talked about most.  Her childhood.  Over and over and over again.  We existed in a weird world where no one ever even bothered to point out, "Hey I've heard this one before."  We just listened as if it was the first time.  I need to explain too that she and her sister never got along.  They would hate each other for 20 year spans.  As a child, I was instructed that, if I saw my aunt, I was to pretend I didn't see her.

When you live in families with weird rules like that, you spend a lot of time trying to understand what is going on.

My mother was a child during World War II.  Even though there was rationing, my grandparents would take my mother and her sister out window shopping every Saturday.  While I was living in their household and had no capability of doing anything else, my mother and father took me out shopping every Saturday.  After I moved out, my parents still went out shopping every Saturday until my mother's poor health prevented her from going.  Then she sent my father.

It was after my aunt died and I heard the details of her life that were previously unknown to me that I began to believe what I had already suspected.  You see, my aunt was a hoarder too.  She went shopping every Saturday too.  What I decided was that one of those Saturdays back in the 40's was very special to those two little girls.  Whatever happened.  Whatever they purchased or simply dreamt of purchasing, it translated to them as happiness.  But the rest of their lives, no matter what they bought, neither of them was ever really happy.  It never lasted.  Because the next Saturday?  They were right out there again.  I could be wrong, but I've always suspected if they simply had pieced things together like I did.  If they had looked at the arrangement of their lives like I did, maybe they would have stopped shopping and actually ended up happy.   But really I'm just guessing.  After all, I'm the daughter who shopped every Saturday and ended up hating it.  I'm the Queen of "know what you want, get in, and get back out again."  I practically worship Amazon.com simply for existing.

If I'm right, though, maybe the self awareness we lack is about our empty holes.  That's what I picture them doing, weekend after weekend.  Frantically stuffing an empty hole with things.

Maybe this will work as a theorem.

Money is a tool.  In order to properly use a tool, you need to know when and how to use it.  Unless otherwise indicated, sunscreen won't protect you from bugs and bug-spray won't prevent your sunburn.  Perhaps the people who are successful with money and always have what they need, know how and when to use it.  While the people who struggle are throwing it into a big empty hole like my mother.

It's a theory anyway.  But for me it gives an example of why we try and fail to buy happiness with money.  My aunt and my mother didn't really want any of the things they bought.  They were trying to buy that happy experience they had as children.  I can relate to that.  I've had a time period I thought was the happiest in my life and had it go away.  If I thought it would have brought it back, I would have even gone shopping on a Saturday.

But it doesn't work that way.  Because that isn't really happiness.  It is something called attachment.  I used to live in an "addiction is something that happens to other people" world.  Then I had my own "attachment" incident.  It's horrible.  I felt like I would never be happy again.  I couldn't even rationally see the entire picture.  What I lost was everything wonderful.  It had been all upside with no bad elements.

Except.  At the same time, I could.  I could rationally see the picture and I knew it hadn't all been a bed of roses.  I knew there was something off in my logic.  It was my feelings that were blind.  They didn't seem to know or care about any of that.

Like I said, I've always been lucky.  In this case, I had my aunt and my mother.  I had witnessed this phenomenon up close and personal and I knew I didn't want any part of it.

The answer to how to stop trying to fill our empty holes, is to realize we don't really have any.  It's like an exercise in the Law of Attraction.  Believe you are lacking something and you will always be lacking.  Focus instead on how much you actually have and how grateful you are for it.  Or better yet, focus on all you can do for someone else.  To date, my happiest moment involved gifts I gave someone I didn't even get to see open them.  Trust me, your heart will be so full, you won't have any space to accommodate "lacking."  You'll be too busy admiring the supernova of love you've suddenly discovered inside you.

You have to let go, though.  See, all that time you've been shoving things into your empty hole, you believed you could fill it.  You believed nirvana would come just when you smoothed over the top of that hole.  You secretly loved your pain.  You loved the fight.  You gave yourself pep talks about how much you deserved it.  (Both your current failures and your future success.)  You are caught in the end reel of an old serial.  Forever the hero, reaching for the unattainable.  It's time to step off the screen, walk past the seats and out into the daylight.  It's time to stop worrying about what you can be and be who you are.

Money is a tool.  It can buy you pieces of happiness, freedom, peace of mind, comfort or a lot of other things you might want.  It all depends on you, though.  You have to know what you're shopping for.

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