Alternatively titled: Don't use financial goals as a mechanism for foreboding joy
I recently learned a new term, foreboding joy. It means to keep yourself from fully enjoying something because you know that the joy you feel is fleeting. It's temporal.
This side of heaven, all joy and happiness that we feel won't last. We know that. For example, I'm feeling a great deal of joy right now because I have my baby strapped to my chest while I'm typing this blog post. I can choose to soak in that joy, or I can instead end the joy prematurely by thinking about the fact that eventually I will want to sit down, and eventually the ergo will dig into my thigh, or my son will wake up and demand Graham crackers and fresh water.
Foreboding joy is a common practice, even among seemingly mentally sound people. We have such strong aversion to losing moments of joy that we mentally fight off joy rather than embrace it and allow it to leave.
Now, I am not a joy expert (though as a Christian Hedonist, it is a goal of mine to attain such expert status), but I have noticed that the way people talk and write about financial goals makes me believe that financial goals are a common mechanism for foreboding joy.
To help raise an awareness about this, I'm dedicating this post to helping you achieve happiness now! Don't allow financial goals to be a mechanism for foreboding joy.
Financial goals aren't penance
In general, when you begin to take control of your finances, you have something of a "financial awakening" where in a moment, something becomes wildly clear to you. You need to change your financial habits.
Its all unicorn and puppies for a little while, but you slowly become angry with your past self. You ask, why isn't my budget working, even though you tried your best. It's easy to become obsessed with undoing your past financial wrongs, and "making up for lost time."
Suddenly financial goals become about undoing past stupid instead of making a better future. Your goal is to serve penance rather than to walk in a new hope. And a financial goal suddenly becomes a stick that you use to beat yourself (and if your spouse is unlucky, you beat them too). "No happiness until (our debt is paid off, we become financially independent, we pay off the house, we hit seven figures of net worth, etc.)"
Of course, you could do this with any type of goal. Wherein you won't allow yourself happiness until you've reached some perceived panacea, but financial goals are especially easy to use as mechanisms for foreboding joy. Almost every decision you make affects your pocketbook.
I see two problems with using financial goals to forebode joy. The first problem is that I think foreboding joy is inherently bad. I think people should do all that they can to maximize joy both temporally and eternally (though the former will always be slippery). The second problem I see is that financial goals give money too much power in our lives.
The only thing money can *SOMETIMES* do
Although money is integrated into our lives, it is not very powerful. The only thing that money can sometimes do is change your circumstances. Your sick with strep throat? Buy Penecillian and you will be well (provided that the medicine works as it should). You want to quit your job? Get a new job or save up enough to quit for good. Great! Now you have no job.
You can use money to move across the world, or to buy food to fill your hungry belly, or to pay a babysitter to take care of your screaming kids. You can sometimes change your circumstances with money, but money won't bring you joy.
We can use our money to buy comfort, but comfort is a far cry from joy.
Circumstances do little to bring us joy. We feel joy when we feel connected to God and to other people, or when we look outside of ourselves and feel peace or wonder. This is why people in horrible conditions report feeling joy in the midst of those circumstances.
Don't get me wrong. I think it's good to make financial goals and to work towards changing your circumstances, but I don't think those should be confused with or substituted for joy now.
So what should we do instead?
These are a list of practices that I think can help anyone experience and amplify joy in their life, and as a bonus help put financial goals into their proper spot.
As you may have noticed, almost every single one of these is about gratitude or connection (love). I do this because I think it's tough to say, "Stop beating yourself up over your finances" without giving a positive to cling onto. I believe that explicitely thanking God for the foretaste of eternal joy, and using that as a fuel for love is the only way to truly move past penance and into joy.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.