When I started writing about financial wellbeing in the summer of 2015, I thought I was putting together a practical guide to help people create a financial plan and thereby reduce stress. Although the book does do this, the more I’ve been researching for our podcasts and blogs, the more I’ve been coming to a realisation –
Working out what we want from life might be the biggest challenge of the whole process.
A little goes a long way
The first few chapters of the book deal with the first (and perhaps most important) of the 5 parts to financial wellbeing: A Clear Path Identifiable Objectives. It’s clear, however, that just identifying what makes us happy is a challenge in itself. It seems that a little information can make a big difference to understanding what makes us tick.
Back in my twenties I was a cigarette smoker. When I got fed up with the hacking cough in the mornings I decided to give up. It wasn’t easy, but there was one bit of information that made all the difference. John Cleese did an advert on how to quit smoking, and in it he said that the physical addiction of cigarettes last around a month. Get past that and it’s down to you. I didn’t know why, but I found this knowledge to be extremely encouraging.
By reading Happiness By Design by Paul Dolan, I finally understood the logic behind this. Imagine playing a piano but not hearing any sound. Without the feedback of hearing the notes you would not be able to modify your playing to improve the sound. Wellbeing is no different. We need feedback on how things affect us – which means we need to notice them.
Notice the impact
And we need to continue to notice them. One tip we give in the book is that if you have the urge to buy something, especially a major purchase, wait 2 weeks. If you still want it after that two weeks is up, then you probably really do want it. But you’ll be surprised how you don’t even remember to think about it again in two weeks.
Knowing facts such as the length of time nicotine stays in your blood stream, or that if you wait two weeks you won’t actually want to buy a new pair of boots, can then help us to make better informed decisions about what to do and when.
Another essential component to financial wellbeing is having financial options. Defining this can be quite tricky, but I think it’s true to say that if you have spent some time noticing the impact on your wellbeing of certain experiences and buying decisions, then this will give you clarity over what makes you happy, which in turn will clarify, if not even expand the options available to you.