I've been reading Ariel Gore's newest book, Bluebird: Women and the new Psychology of Happiness. (Never read her before - she's fantastic! Where have I been?) It's about the positive psychology movement, whether or not it's a bunch of junk and how it can be applied to women's lives. What I like most about the book are the personal journal entries and stories from women who Gore interviewed as subjects. They are thought-provoking and illuminating.
There's a short chapter on money - whether women tend to devalue the role money plays in our lives and happiness. A certain story piqued my interest. A friend of Gore's went to college and noticed that "the kids from upper-class backgrounds seemed to have a wholly different attitude toward money from the kids who grew up poor... what might she learn from her new, entitled friends?"
She discovered that "people who grew up with money welcome money into their lives. People who grew up poor tend to have a lot of negative associations with money - they associate money with money problems."
Whoa. Seems like a simple enough concept. But it hit me right in the gut when I read it.
I have a real chip on my shoulder when it comes to money, and I always have. We didn't have much when I was growing up - I never went to bed hungry or anything, but money was always tight. There were fights about money all the time. After the divorce, my mom and I were on food stamps for a short while. She didn't really know how to handle money and I learned some bad spending habits that took me many years to correct. Despite our constant money struggles, my parents chose to send me to private schools for my entire education. I don't really know how that happened and don't really see the practicality of that choice now, but what's done is done.
I went into a middle school and high school resembling "Beverly Hills 90210," or at least the East Tennessee version. I grew to resent the kids who had money to buy whatever their hearts desired. Kids who crashed their luxury cars, only to have their parents buy them new ones. Kids who went on skiing vacations and didn't have t0 shop for their school uniforms at the annual consignment sale. I had an amazing group of high school friends who never, ever made me feel lass than because of my money situation. But I always knew that I was pretty much the poorest kid in the whole freaking school.
So when I read that section from Bluebird I felt in viscerally. I don't know many people who have worse associations with money than I do. Money makes me nervous, anxious, jealous, disgusted, angry. And since the days of my bad spending habits I've done a 180 degree turn and practically hate to spend money now. I haven't bought a new winter coat in nine years because spending more than $50.00 on one item makes me feel almost ill. Yeah, I've got issues.
In Bluebird, Ariel Gore's friend tried to consciously change her relationship with money by saying all these mantras like, "I am a money magnet. Money flows naturally and easily into my life." She started teaching all of their starving artist friends her theory of "money magnetism." I told Eric about this and he said it sounded like "all that Secret bullshit." I responded, "Well, I buy into that stuff to a certain extent." And I do. It doesn't explain away all of the iniquities and hardship in the world. Sometimes bad stuff just happens. But - there IS some truth to how your view of the world determines your life path. If you play the victim your whole life, things feel out of your control, unlucky things get you down even more, and you can get stuck in a loop of hopelessness and negative emotions. I've seen it happen enough in my own family to believe it.
If I apply this money theory to my life, how does that affect me? I've hated and desired money equally. It's been a temptress, an annoyance, a hassle. But if I look at it objectively, it's also been an ally, a savior, a friend. Me digging myself out of debt has led to a good credit score, which led to a home loan, which led to me and my husband living in our cute little house in the neighborhood we adore. A surprise family inheritance allowed my mother to make some much needed repairs to her home and get herself mostly out of debt. No one in my family, or my husband's, is rich, but we all basically have what we need, which is a blessing.
Maybe I need to start coming up with some money mantras of my own. It couldn't hurt, right? It just might lead to some healing, some letting go of weighty, illogical feelings that could be holding me back. And come next winter, it might also lead to a brand-new coat!