I hesitate to say this but – evidently, I’m looking good. That’s what people are telling me. Maybe it is spring. Maybe everyone decided to be polite the same way at the same time. I suspect it has to do with money. Thanks to the addition of a part-time, temporary gig I can pay all of my bills, at least temporarily. There’s even good reason to believe that, whether through that gig or others, I’ll be able to relax for longer. I’m near my heaviest weight. I have been so busy I haven’t gone for a run in weeks. My wardrobe hasn’t changed. I suspect the comments and compliments are coming from the simple fact that I am more relaxed, and that relaxation shows in fewer wrinkles, quicker laughs, and a straighter back and a raised chin. Even though money is an abstraction, its influence has real consequences. Being poor makes you look poorer. I’m glad people think I am looking good, or at least better.
l’m going to skip most of the history behind my self-image. I’m a guy, and yet appearance has affected my career, relationships, and self-worth. I feel sorry for those women who are held to ridiculous standards, are only judged by their appearance, and who may never realize their true self-worth. Now, when I see a highly prepared celebrity I am more likely to feel sorry for her than be impressed. I also know I am not immune. It was until after I bicycled across America (Just Keep Pedaling) that I realized I was in shape. My exterior showed far more gut than I wanted, but bicycling 3,800 miles was an accomplishment that convinced me that in at least internally I was in shape. While I was walking across Scotland I had the same dismaying reaction to seeing myself in a mirror, and then the same realization when I reached the far shore. If I did a rewrite of Just Keep Pedaling I’d probably concentrate on personal, cultural, political, and national self-images and the disconnect between the illusion and the reality.
Stress makes us do silly things. During some of my most stressful times, my muscles tighten, I worry more than laugh, and I spend a lot more time working. A clenched jaw, strained face and neck muscles, a tight back, and poor posture do nothing to make the stress go away or to make the money arrive sooner. Laughing while stressed can be seen as frivolous, irresponsible, and disrespectful of others in similar situations. A facade of worry is our badge of diligent behaviour, even though facial expressions shouldn’t affect income and expenses. Spending a lot of time working while doing poorly financially makes sense, unless it is spending free time on worrying instead of living. Relieve some stress and others see things improve.
Many of us are probably hesitant to pass along compliments because humility is seen as a virtue, we may not believe the compliment, and we don’t want to people to dismiss it or challenge it or refute it. “Hey, evidently I am looking good today.” “Really, even with that hair and your gut? What were they thinking?”
Personal finance is supposed to be linear, logical, academic, and mathematical. I don’t even think that is true with institutional finance, except for the funds run by bots. As for the other term, personal, that definitely is non-linear, emotional, practical, and subjective. Personal finance affects more than numbers and money. Ignoring that ignores the person in their finances.
I met a man at a finance conference who I think went too far the other way. He claimed that people who live within impressive and expressive cultures have all the wealth they need, as if being homeless, poor, and hungry described non-essentials, luxuries. His assertion was that, if a society encourages a positive self-image under any circumstances, then they don’t need money or aid, even if they’ve been hit with a hurricane or earthquake. If their lifestyle was so appealing and his logic infallible, then logically he should give up the American culture he criticized to life in their conditions.
To some extent, however, he is right. There are people who have developed the perspective or revelation that joy is always available, that stress is something we create within ourselves, and that money is a very silly concept. It is why some beggars smile; but it is probably also why so many of us are impressed with monks, ministers, nuns, and shamans. Celebrate the great gift of being alive. Change the things you can. Don’t try to change the things you can’t. Do that and you’ve either just improved your life, or you’ve freed up time that you would’ve spent worrying. Sounds great. It isn’t easy. If it was easy, there’d be no need for clergy, teachers, coaches, counselors, and support groups.
I feel a cautious personal optimism growing that benefits from some objective improvements. (As for global optimism, well, go check out my other blog: PretendingNotToPanic.com) Assertions that “everything will work out alright”, “everything happens for a purpose”, “be positive and attract positive things” are all subjective ideologies. That last one is even contradicted by physics. Positive attracts negative. Relationships and societies, however, operate by different rules than science.
For me, the objective improvements have the real consequence that I feel better. I sleep better. I am getting more done. I’m considering un-damming some of my plans. Little improvements have meant buying dirt and seeds, filling my pantry, and taking small steps to repair a long list of neglect.
We judge by appearances. We evolved that way. We consider the future and the risks. That’s why our species has lived long enough to continue to evolve. In many ways, however, we now know that the world is an illusion, advertisements are illusions, money is an abstraction, as are our financial institutions. So many religions and philosophies distill down to looking past the illusion. Intellectually, I understand them. Spiritually, I’ve been impressed with certain experiences. Realistically though, my thoughts and feelings continue to be influenced by the abstraction that is money. I can’t fault the sentiment of millions or billions of others who are in worse situations. Do the poor look poorly? Yes, many do. That only means their finances are poor. Given the opportunity, most of them would probably look pretty good.