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Talking About Money Is Good for Your Health

09/22/2015 08:01 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 05:12 EDT
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Man with stack of coins

Time is always well spent with friends and family engaging in conversation over a wonderful meal. Most of us know the enjoyment and pleasure that comes from breaking bread with friends and family, and the boost our well-being experiences when we share our experiences with others.

Recently, we dined with our friends from Vancouver and at every meal we shared stories which resulted in spirited conversations about everything in our lives from work-life balance (or lack thereof), to how expensive it is to raise children, to our future plans for retirement. We compared our quality of life and the importance of imparting healthy and good money habits to our kids. We agreed that we are our children's best teachers about life and money. We must lead this conversation.

The dinner table conversation can be diverse and varied, and usually depends upon who is sitting at our table. It's inclusive and must fit the audience. With our children, we talk about the day's events, what went well, what didn't go well and seek to connect with our kids at an emotional level in order to feel part of their lives. We will listen intently as our kids share stories of school yard activities, etc. With adults or our friends, we may cover a range of topics -- about almost anything, such as our health, the elections on both sides of the border, Hilary Clinton's popularity, the cost of a barrel of oil, or whether the Federal Reserve in the U.S. will raise interest rates, etc.

But when it comes to talking about our personal wealth or money situation, we tread more lightly.

When we engage in conversations about our money around the table, most of us will easily share stories about a bad (or good) investment we made, or the fantastic deal we just got. But, when the conversation turns to our personal finances, we will not reveal details about our debt levels (even though we may be managing our debt well); our savings or lack of savings; or how much money we make -- even though it may be extremely cathartic.

We want to appear as good money managers in the eyes of our friends, even though we may indulge or get off track from time to time. All of us know the moment when the conversation gets a bit too personal about our finances, because someone either politely changes the topic or we quickly start eating.

Sound familiar? Why does this happen? It's simple. Most of us feel talking about money is "too personal." It makes us feel uncomfortable.

Part of the challenge for all of us is how we view our money. If we buy into social norms dictating that money represents power (which differs from having choices and options), and this defines success, we are doomed to embrace old paradigms that may or may not reflect our values. And, if we don't have investment or saving balances based on some preconceived notion of what we should have based on where we are in life, we may not feel we are successful.

How we define our success must change. We can use our money, literally and metaphorically, to over-indulge, for example, taking on too much debt or over-spending -- but at the end of the day, it's a tool to help us live more comfortably.

How can we engage in real conversations about money that fosters awareness, growth and healthier attitudes?

Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since 2007. The American Psychology Association 2014 survey shows that "stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on our health and well-being." Almost seven out of 10 feel stressed over money matters. People in the survey who said they "have someone they can ask for emotional support, such as family and friends, report lower stress levels and better related outcomes than those without emotional support."

Yet in North America, so much of our self-worth is tied to how much money we had growing up, how much we currently make, or what we do for a living. Our culture celebrates success through traditional measurements or markers such as money and power.

We must slowly begin to change the conversation around the dinner table, because there is a growing body of research that demonstrates how when we focus on our health and wellness first, it has a significant impact on our lives overall. The healthier and better we feel about ourselves emotionally and spiritually have immediate impacts on our quality of life, happiness and stress levels.

According to a study by the Milken Institute, "when we focus more on our well-being ... in turn, it will help bring about the larger change from a model of success based on money, power and overwork to one based on well-being, wise decisions and good ideas."

Money alone will not bring us a joyful life. If we put all our eggs in one basket and think our money trumps relationships, everyday living and health and wellness, we will have less than a baker's dozen.

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