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Emotions: What Drives Our Wallets

Updated: Apr 7

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There can be no impactful discussion of mindfulness or of money management without the acknowledgement and exploration of emotions. Want to get the populace all riled up? Bring up the words emotions or emotional and I promise you a debate will ensue, mainly pitting men against women. Don't believe me? Go to your favorite social media site and type "emotions" in the search bar and see what the people are saying. Unfortunately, the so- called professionals and experts do not make such discussion any easier to have because scientists don't even agree on what emotions actually are. Whether the field of study is philosophy, psychology, sociology, or economics, there is no consensus as to what comprises an emotion. Add in the cultural differences around the world and differences in language the issue is further compounded.

A common idea though, is that emotions are threatening. As far back as Socrates, philosophers have viewed emotions as something that needs to be controlled by reason. Wait a minute, the same debate we are having to this day instead we use the word logic more often than reason. Our family of origins also reinforce this principle, urging us not to express emotions such as desire, sadness, fear, or anger. Ever been told, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about"? I know I have. And let's not get on the countless times in therapy session that I have asked my clients how they feel and they look puzzled as if I had asked them to compute the square root of pi or recite the circumference of Jupiter. Emotions bad. Logic good. However, going back to my opening statement, we cannot begin to discuss mindfulness or money management without understanding emotional impact. And whether you are a man or a woman, there is ALWAYS emotional impact.

What are Emotions?

Emotions are reactions that we experience in response to events or situations. The type of emotion we experience is dependent upon the circumstances triggering said emotions. To illustrate, when a parent receives news that their adult child is about to join the ranks of parenthood, they experience joy maybe even giddiness at the thought; yet the same news of a teenaged child may elicit emotions of disappointment or fear. Same scenario, different circumstances. Though our debate about emotions vs. logic is cute at times and sorely misinformed at other times, the truth is emotions are a vital part of us that we cannot escape no matter how logical we deem ourselves. Emotions evolved as a part of the survival mechanisms of humans and was designed to happen without us thinking about it. This automatic, evaluative process is hardwired in us. This is why we are able to flee or freeze when we are afraid, remove obstacles when we are angry, and elicit comfort from others when we are sad. This hardwiring process is why it is so difficult to change the things we become emotional about. Think of it this way, by the time we realize that we have a mind and brain and emotions, the basic rules of how these works are already in place.

What are the Key Elements of Emotions?

It is when we can understand key concepts about emotions that we can bring mindful awareness to our feelings as they arise, yes even when it comes to matters of our wallets and money. Authors Don Hockenbury and Sandra E. Hockenbury suggest viewing emotions as having three distinct key elements: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response.

Subjective Experience

Physiological Response

Behavioral or Expressive Response

How Do Emotions Serve in Creating Our Realities?

Our emotions help us to navigate our world. Psychologist Paul Gilbert proposed that we aren't puppets relegated to just having things happen to us. There are emotion regulation systems at play that assist us with adapting to various challenges and navigating social interactions. Our threat system is tasked with noticing potential risks in our environment. It is associated with emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger. It helps mobilize us to action to ensure our survival. Our drive system is tasked with pushing us towards seeking important resources and achieving goals. It is associated with emotions such as desire, excitement, and motivation. This system is responsible for moving us to seek satisfaction of both material and immaterial wants and needs. Finally, our soothing system is tasked with promoting a sense of safety, relaxation, and wellbeing. It is associated with emotions such as contentment, compassion, and self-soothing. Spending time with people we care about and whom we feel connected to and safe with, is one sure fire way to activate this system.

  • Threat system- Tells you: "You're in trouble: run, fight, or pretend you're dead."

  • Drive system- Tells you: "What are you waiting for? Just go and get it!"

  • Soothing system- Tells you: "Relax," "Enjoy," or "Everything is fine."

How Do Emotions Fit in with Mindfulness & Money?

WARNING: Emotional flooding alert! Your logical mind is about to go offline. You are about to say or do things you will later regret. Or fail to do things that you need to do.

Wouldn't it be nice if we as humans came with a built-in warning system such as this? This is why most emotion vs. logic debates fall flat. Emotions are a part of us all. And with the right time, pressure, or circumstances, any of us can fall victim to emotional flooding.

Emotional flooding occurs when we become overwhelmed by emotions. This process occurs in all human beings. When it occurs an individual experiences a surge of emotions, making it difficult to think or respond rationally to a situation. Essentially, our brains get flooded with neurotransmitters and parts of our brains shut off while other parts light up. Want to guess which part of the brain that is?

When that part of our brain is in control, we in essence, "stop acting like adults" and start fighting for our survival. We say and do things that we later regret.

Our financial journeys are often accompanied by a range of emotions, from the satisfaction of achieving our financial goals to the stress of unexpected expenses. Emotional responses to money can vary widely and are influenced by factors such as personal money scripts, past experiences, and societal expectations. Emotional flooding in the context of money management occurs when intense emotions overwhelm our ability to make rational and informed financial decisions. Which can lead to impulse spending in the form of retail therapy. However, other effects of emotional flooding on our money include: panic selling investments, making hasty financial moves, feelings of guilt and shame about past financial mistakes, and on the other end of the spectrum, over confidence and risky investments and spending.

Mindfulness comes into play here because it requires of us to be aware of our emotions and their potential impact on the financial decisions that we make. As discussed last article, mindfulness requires we be more fully present in our finances. Mindfulness heightens our awareness of spending habits and emotional triggers. Mindful awareness aids us in developing a more mindful approach to consumption and more clearly distinguish between needs and impulsive wants. Mindfulness aids in separating reality from our reactions to reality so that we can make strategic financial decisions that align with our overall life vision.

Damming Up the Emotional Floodgates:

Being in tune with our emotions allows for a more proactive and adaptive response. Here are some things to try to stop the emotional floodgates and get in control over your money:

  • Engaging in deep-breathing exercises and relaxation techniques can help calm the physiological arousal associated with emotional flooding, bringing a sense of balance.

  • Taking a break or engaging in a distraction, allows for our emotions to settle before returning to the situation.

  • Developing and practicing emotional regulation skills, such as identifying distorted thoughts and implementing positive coping strategies, can significantly enhance our ability to navigate intense emotions.

This year we are exploring how mindfulness can be used to help us develop positive money habits and happy wallets. This article we acknowledged the intricate world of emotions and its effect on us and our money. As we engage in conversations about the interplay of mindfulness and money, it becomes clear that emotions should not be treated as an adversary to be subdued by rather as integral facet of our existence. As we strive to dam up the emotional floodgates, deep-breathing exercises, breaks, and emotional regulation skills become essential tools for regaining control. Doing so, we empower ourselves to make informed and strategic financial decisions aligned with our life vision. This seems like a tall order, I know. But as I always admonish. No matter where you are on this wellness journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading!

Affiliate Links to Follow:

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"Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving." ~Warren Buffett


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