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Imagine losing your entire savings. Now imagine losing your entire savings because of Bernie Madoff, the (late) crook who took over 50 billion dollars’ worth of his clients’ investments in a Ponzi scheme.
That’s what happened to bestselling author and speaker Geneen Roth and her husband in 2009. Her friends suggested that she focus on the positive, but she couldn’t get behind that advice, at least not then. “This was not the time to be spiritual … This is the time to get hysterical,” she told me on my podcast.
Soon, Roth realized that in order to pick up the pieces and renew her financial life, she would have to move away from the self-loathing and focus on what hadn’t been lost — her health, home, marriage and talents. Being grateful for the remaining richness in her life, the things of value that Madoff hadn’t stolen from her, taught her some critical lessons and gave her the strength to take action. She returned to writing, a skill that had helped her build a massive literary career. She wrote new articles — one chronicling her Madoff debacle — and turned it into a book. “The money started coming back,” she said.
Moving from shame to gratitude also led Roth to have a deeper appreciation for money. “It taught me to be much more diligent, much more mindful about where I both spent my money, invested my money … to have that be in alignment with my values, about what I really cared about,” she said.
I know that a lot of us get tired of hearing about the power of gratitude around Thanksgiving, especially when the majority of Americans are facing daily struggles due to the high cost of living, inflation and job insecurity. But practicing gratitude has been scientifically proven to help people move forward and attract more wealth. A well-cited 2016 Northeastern University study found that embracing the good in our lives today makes us value and want to protect the future more.
When I spoke with the study’s co-author David DeSteno, he explained that gratitude promotes patience. It makes you slow down and reflect and have a better appreciation for long-term gains as opposed to instant gratification. As a result, we may make fewer impulse decisions around money and focus instead on achieving financial goals down the road, such as retirement or college savings. DeSteno says that building up financial patience requires being consistent, so aim to note what you’re grateful for a few times a week.
One of my favorite quotes about defining what it means to be “rich” comes from a So Money podcast episode with the bestselling author Seth Godin. He said: “If you have resources, if you have the freedom to choose, if you have the ability to not just spend money, but spend time and create things that touch other people, you are rich.”
For me, Roth’s experience, DeSteno’s study and Godin’s words serve as an important reminder to be more mindful and thankful for what I have. Here are a few ways to practice gratitude toward yourself and others to help improve your financial well-being.
Write it down
Godin believes that journaling your money goals along with what you’re grateful for is “probably the single biggest change the average person can make in their life for the cost of a paper and a pencil.” Why? Because, he said, learning how to articulate goals — financial or other — will help you undo stories you’ve been accepting for a long time. For example, you might discover that you’re carrying around an impossible goal, such as buying a nice new car, that makes you feel badly about having to take out a loan that you can’t afford. The practice of keeping a log allows you to be more intentional with what you want and helps you design goals that are actually achievable and make you happy.
Appreciate resources and access
We can quickly identify the big things we’re grateful for such as our job, home and food on the table. It’s also important to appreciate the small, sometimes overlooked advantages in your life that can fuel your financial well-being. That may be speaking a second language or having a spare bedroom in your home. These assets are valuable and can help you — or someone else — improve their lives. Even recognizing that you have a flexible schedule can prompt you to help a parent who needs afternoon childcare in a bind. Being cognizant of these assets can inspire us to be morewith our network and neighbors, who might one day repay the favor.
Celebrate your wins
I hear this frequently from those who’ve worked hard to eliminate debt. To improve their chances of crossing the finish line, they show gratitude for how far they’ve come. They’ll celebrate a win, like paying off one of their cards or negotiating with a creditor to reduce their interest rate, by treating themselves — or someone else — to a small treat. They might open a bottle of wine, donate to a charity or enjoy a movie with a friend. By valuing your small accomplishments along a big journey, you recognize your willpower, stay motivated and are more likely to stay the course. Even if you feel like you don’t have any major money wins, looking back to evaluate the progress you’ve made can help put things into perspective.
Mute media that makes you feel bad
Practicing gratitude can be challenging in a world where we’re always seeing how others live, or present themselves, on social media. Watching others display their “flawless” house, body, car and kids on Instagram and TikTok can be dangerous if we start to measure our self-worth against what they’re selling. If social media accounts or reality TV shows leave you with a sense of FOMO, or have you questioning your financial decisions, or even overspending to try to “keep up” with the Joneses, stop being in the audience.