Gratitude and Empathy

Empathy is an important characteristic for a financial advisor, and as I talk to people about their financial concerns, I find myself worrying for them about those things too. Like when a business owner I work with told me if things don’t pick up in a few months they’ll have to close their doors, or when a client loses their job in a “resource action.”

I hear these things and my blood pressure rises as I think about how I might feel if this happened to me and my family. Then I start trying to think of solutions and steps they might take, that I should take too.  Sometimes these ideas are well-received. Other times, not so much. But they often boil down to spending less.

Making hay while the sun shines has never been more important, because it should be clear the government is not going to take care of you if you lose your job or your business.

But human nature is a funny thing and we don’t do well with this concept. Our culture encourages us to spend right up to our income. While things are good, we tend to want what we think others have, even if spending the money to get it is unwise.

This impulse—to keep up with everyone else—is a huge barrier to “making hay.” By taking a step back and shifting our focus from the things we want or feel we should have because others have them, we can help to bring the perspective back to what we actually need.

In other words, just like losing weight is more about what we shove down our maws than it is about exercising more or harder, not outliving what you have for retirement is more about what you spend than it is about what you accumulate.

I talk a lot about goal-setting and milestones in the planning we do for our clients. And those are valuable and important exercises, because as I say, we need to make hay. And the places we store the proverbial hay will have a major impact on how long it lasts.

They say perception is reality. And while I believe this to be true, it can also be reshaped.

I find that the problems most of us tend to obsess over are usually inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  And our perception is reshaped when we read or hear about people that have real problems, like hunger, sickness, war, or loneliness. And being hit over the head with the reality that the problems we’ve been stressing over are insignificant can bring about a sense of gratitude.

Putting yourself in another’s shoes is a powerful tool when you really want to change your outlook. Practicing this takes, well, practice. But with time and effort, it can change the frame of your big picture, which in turn helps clarify the smaller images too. And it all adds up.

Halloween is now a distant memory. The holiday season gauntlet is upon us and the first test is of course, Thanksgiving. If you’re anxious or stressed about spending time with people that drive you nuts, or how you’re going to get what you need done on Black Friday, take that step back. Consider the experiences that have shaped your perceptions, and be thankful for what you have. If on the other hand, you’re looking forward to a few days off, a big feast, and spending time with people you love, just be thankful for that. Just be thankful.