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Money and Buddhism: Philosophy Series

❝What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow.❞ -Buddha

I'm sitting on my couch meditating with a little help from an app on my phone. I've learned how to focus my attention on an object of meditation like my breath. Now I'm starting to learn more open awareness techniques. During my meditation training, I've learned a lot about Buddhism. I learned that Buddhism focuses on relieving pain and suffering, as well as separating ourselves from our ego. I learned it has a lot in common with Stoicism and its focus on how we interpret the world around us. Like many other philosophies of life, Buddhism proposes a drive towards contentment and serenity.

There's a lot we can learn from Buddhism in our financial lives, including how to be less reactive in the face of financial issues and how to be more mindful of our financial lives.

Life is Hard

There's no doubt about it; life is going to be hard. There will always be stress, setbacks, problems, and other things that need to be solved. You might think of this as the human condition. Buddhists would say we ought to seek to minimize suffering for ourselves and others.

One of the strongest ways to reduce suffering is to detach from the pursuit of happiness.

Attachments and Unhappiness

A lot of our unhappiness, Buddhists say, is caused by our attachment to outside things. They would say that the pursuit of happiness is itself a cause of unhappiness. There's an old saying that you can't become happy; you can only be happy.

Buddhists believe that the self is an illusion. If we can separate ourselves from our ego, then we start to realize that nothing is personal; it just is. This is the foundation of happiness, or the alleviation of suffering.

Pain Versus Suffering

Buddhists make a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is an inevitable part of life. This is inescapable. Suffering, on the other hand, is caused by us.

This idea is often told through a metaphor about two arrows. Pain is what happens when we get hit by an arrow. This will happen and is part of that human condition. If we dwell on the pain, then we are inviting a second arrow to strike us. Whereas we can't avoid the first arrow, our own thoughts and interpretations of events can prevent being struck by the second arrow.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation where you practice being more mindful. It's about paying close attention to the contents of consciousness. This includes your breath, which is often the starting point when you first start meditating. It also includes focusing on all bodily sensations, sounds, sights, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and anything else that can arise in consciousness. Mindfulness meditation is training in increasing awareness about what is happening without judgment and without trying to change it. It's about breaking the spell of being lost in thought - or thinking without knowing you are thinking.

Becoming more mindful enables us to respond to things rather than react.

Choose Your Responses

Many people sleepwalk through life, floating from circumstance to circumstance. They are effectively reacting to whatever life gives them. When we spend our time reacting, we are more likely to react in a way that is harmful to ourselves, to others, and to our relationships. With mindfulness, we can learn to increase the space between the stimulus, or whatever is happening to us, and our actions. By doing so, we get to choose our response. Choosing a response allows us to reply or respond in a more productive way. It helps us live a more intentional life.

Buddhism and its focus on the human condition, how we interpret events, and mindfulness, can help us live a more healthy financial life. Having financial surprises is part of life. There will always be unexpected expenses. There will always be issues at work. Money impacts every area of our lives, and there's no escaping it. Money is stressful, and one of the most stressful areas of people's lives. Learning to accept that money is stressful, becoming more aware of how we feel about what is happening to us financially, and responding in productive ways helps prevent us from making big financial mistakes. Additionally, increasing our awareness around our spending prevents us from spending mindlessly.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis

Hanson, Rick & Forrest Hanson: Resilient

Hanson, Rick & Richard Mendius: Buddha's Brain

Harris, Sam: Waking Up

Macaro, Antonia: More Than Happiness

Manson, Mark: Why I Am Not a Stoic

Pigliucci, Massimo, Skye Cleary, & Daniel Kaufman: How to Live a Good Life

Scott, SJ & Barrie Davenport: 10-Minute Mindfulness

Scott, SJ & Barrie Davenport: Declutter Your Mind

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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