Transcendence in Money

Financial writing at its best helps you find or notice transcendent experiences, to do more than just make or save a dollar for the sake of money.

And for me, the transcendent experience, in a nutshell, is feeling that you are connected to something larger than yourself, that there’s some order in the universe.

ALAN LIGHTMAN

One night, the physicist and author Alan Lightman was in his boat off the coast of Maine. All alone, he decided to cut the engine and turn off the running lights, enveloping him in deep silence and utter darkness. Then he lay down in the boat and gazed up at the pinhole fires of the stars above.

As told to Sean Carroll on the Mindscape podcast: “I felt like I was falling into infinity. I felt like I had lost all sense of my body or time or space, and I was just part of the cosmos. I felt a connection to something much larger than myself, and I felt that the infinite expanse of time before I was born, and the infinite expanse of time after I will be dead, all of that seemed compressed to a dot.”

I bet most of us have had similar transcendent experiences, whether with the assistance of drugs or not.

I’ve felt it at times while running, when the world without and within seems to simultaneously expand and contract. I know my city more intimately — the wildlife, the trees, the neighbor’s garden — while at the same running longer distances expands the size of the city I know. Internally, I come closer to my spirit while understanding how large it can grow. All together, there is an indisputable feeling of oneness — an infinite world outside of me mirroring and infinite world within.

From these experiences we can derive new lessons, new ways of thinking. For me, it has been to accept pain and exertion and connecting to the wider world through motion. For Lightman, it is to better understand and appreciate the secrets of the universe.

The belief that you are connected to something larger than yourself can lead to a more satisfaction in all areas of life, including money. We can frame it as a shift from the materialistic norms of society to a greater sense self and purpose, which leads to more positive financial outcomes.

It is transcending superficiality — the need for a faster car, bigger house, etc. — to live with purpose. It is discarding the egotistic self (I) for a greater meaningful self (we). The competition between these two is often why people make mistakes.

There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular.

THOMAS MERTON

Instead of using money, you are cultivating it to support your values, that which is bigger than yourself.

That elevated feeling, the sublime, of a more lasting nature, is why research shows experiences bring more happiness to people than possessions.

Here are some financial experiences that can feel transcendent as we defined above:

To live with a sense of meaning every day.

The ability to actually enjoy the fruits of your labor, rather than want only more.

To do work that you want, not that you have to.

Never having to rely on anyone else.

Managing money as if it is not for you but for a greater cause.

Balance between happiness now and happiness later.

To humbly invest money, recognizing you cannot predict much less control the market.

An optimistic view of the future, that you are a vital part of something bigger — human progress — so you are eager to achieve your goals and help others.

Expressing gratitude for the things and life you have rather than tirelessly spending in an effort to change it.

Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.

DALE CARNEGIE

Can financial writing lead to transcendence?

At its core, financial writing is meant to help people make better financial decisions. So, the question can seem a little too deep.

But when you think about how those financial decisions can determine our quality of life and how money can be focused on meaningful purposes, it’s worth asking. As a writer, you should guide people toward those ends.

No one is going to read a blog or article and feel fully transcended. Again, maybe if drugs are involved. But at its best, financial writing can show you the door. And that is not a small thing. All the reader has to do then is walk through, to make the decisions with the knowledge of what bigger, happier things are possible.

Friday Five

Five pieces of financial & non-financial writing and one reason why I recommend reading them.

Learning from experience

I admire Tony Isola for his dedication in helping teachers achieve the financial well-being they all deserve. I envy him for concise yet full writing style. Here, he gets personal with a list of his most valuable lessons in life. They are worth anybody to learn and live, too.

Philosophy in the time of COVID

From infection rates to economic and market trends, data has been top of mind during the pandemic. Eric Weiner, author of “The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers,” asks us to instead search for wisdom. He deftly shows us how we can take the ideas of famous philosophers to overcome the adversity of these trying times.

7 habits of highly effective runners

From a writing standpoint, this is a great example of repurposing a well-known work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” But Mario Fraioli is a better writer than just that. This list is chock full of information and inspiration, which you can apply to other parts of your life.

Doing more with less stress

This article from Adam Grossman has good strategies for being productive but without all the stress that often comes with competing priorities. But what makes it great is that he backs it up with a lot of useful research. Take note!

Friday fiction: Etgar Keret

” ‘Write whatever comes into your head,’ she said. ‘Don’t think, just write.’ Aviad tried to stop thinking. It was very hard.”

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