I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you if I told you that something like 94% of all news stories are negative. Bad news sells, so we get stories that stir up all sorts of unpleasant emotions. It’s not just the media either; we on an individual level tend to share more negative stories or our own bad experiences than the good. It’s human nature.
No matter what your political leanings, it’s hard to deny that the past three years have been incredibly contentious and polarizing, and in many ways we are suffering collectively from a mood of helplessness, hopelessness, and anger. The inmates seem to be running the asylum in Washington, and to say it can be depressing and paralyzing is an understatement. That’s why today I want to write about one of the things I believe is the most vital elements in our quest for financial peace: giving thanks.
Excessive pessimism can be damaging to our finances, just as much as Greenspan’s infamous irrational exuberance. I’m not saying there isn’t a lot out there to be pessimistic about, but letting that negativity take over can keep us from fighting, from pushing forward, from taking risks we may need to take to succeed. Focusing on the enormity of problems can sap us of drive and determination to keep going. Having a “what’s the use” attitude can lead to reckless spending that further destroys our wealth and hinders our ability to climb out of the hole, or a reluctance to do the things we need to do for our financial health.
When it comes right down to it, can you do anything about what spouts from the mouths of your political nemeses or whether the stock market is due to crash any day? If we are facing global collapse, can you stop it? I sure can’t. But I can control how I react to these things and the circumstances of my life, to make the best of what has been entrusted to me here on earth, including my attitude. Oh, it’s easy for me to say that here; it’s another story to live that out in my life.
Trust me, I have a whole closet full of cranky pants.
Practicing gratitude can help us reframe our circumstances and free us to focus our energy on moving in a positive direction with the things that are within our control. I’m not talking about a Pollyanna denial of the facts, but rather an intentional declaration that yes, things are bad, maybe unimaginably bad, but I still have much to be thankful for, and that is where I choose to focus my energy. It opens us up to see opportunities for growth we might otherwise overlook or even be afraid to pursue, and also encourages a spirit of generosity and contentment.
We can’t stop bad things from happening in the world, but we can fight to keep hopelessness from swallowing us up in part by limiting our consumption of negative news, listening to negative people, and most importantly by purposefully cultivating a thankful heart. I by no means practice it all the time and frankly when I’m at my worst it is the very last thing I want to do, but I know I’m a happier person when I do.
If you’re facing trials today, I encourage you too, to be thankful for the littlest things- for waking up in the morning, for breath, for life around us, for a sunrise, for toddler giggles. Life is hard; it’s draining and it’s challenging. But it’s also full of beauty and blessings everywhere we look, if we look close enough. Don’t let your troubles steal your spirit too. That’s yours for keeps.
A few things in the financial world I am thankful for:
That stock market, tho! It may correct tomorrow, it may correct next year, no one knows. But letting fear of the correction keep you out of the market is a sure way to lose long term growth.
Mortgage rates are at all time lows again, keeping home purchases more affordable. If you’re looking to have a payment of $800 a month, the difference between a 4% interest rate and a 5% is the ability to purchase $20,000 more house with the lower interest rate ($168k vs $158k mortgage).
In the tax world, that awful 1040 postcard form rolled out last year has been revised to look more like the old form, there is a new, simpler tax form 1040-SR for taxpayers 65, and best of all, the IRS has been charged with developing a comprehensive customer service plan.