Serenity and Personal Finance

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

– Reinhold Neibuhr

Serenity is simply the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. I find that I feel something close to what one would call serenity after a good day hiking in a state or national park with friends or family, when I don’t have anything important or urgent bearing down on me.

Of course, there are a lot of things that interrupt that kind of serenity. General anxiety can rip it to shreds. Addictions. Marital worries. Parental worries. Social worries. Professional worries. And, yes, financial worries.

There’s this challenging interplay between serenity and personal finance. When your finances are in a bad place, your finances can erode your ability to find serenity anywhere. Financial problems looming over your head are incredibly stressful and fill even ordinary moments with a layer of underlying stress and anxiety that you basically can’t escape from.

However, as your finances slowly improve and you begin to build a financial foundation for the future, your finances actually contribute to serenity. You begin to feel a certain protection from things that once began to worry you and a lot of stress just evaporates from your life.

I firmly believe that getting your finances in order is a powerful tool for finding serenity in modern life. At the same time, there are many techniques that will help guide you toward serenity without harming your financial state.

Let’s look at a few of both.

Finding Serenity Under Stress

You really don’t need to go to some expensive weekend retreat or start going to a special class or buy a special “brain wave” headband or anything like that to find a little more serenity in your life, no matter how expensive it is. You just need to add a few very simple practices to your life.

Try to do things with intention. Whenever you do something, do it with a purpose. If you can’t give a clear, positive answer to why you’re doing something, don’t do it and find something else to do. It is a lot easier to feel happy about what you’re doing with your life if most of the actions have a meaningful purpose for you, so try to find that purpose, and if you can’t, stop with that action.

Consciously aim for the positives in life. What are the things you’ve done in everyday life that make you feel good about your life? Was it some charitable work you did? Was it when you really listened to a friend? Was it when you just gave yourself over completely to a hobby you enjoy and lost track of time doing it? Find space for those things in your life, as much as possible, even if it means discarding a few other things that you think should be important to you but really aren’t.

Start a gratitude journal. Just take a few minutes each day to think about five things in your life that you’re grateful for, things that make your life better by their mere presence. Maybe it’s something as simple as a friend’s laughter or the flavor of a cup of dark roast coffee. Whatever it is, if it makes your life better, write it down. Do this over and over again over many, many days and you’ll start to see how abundant your life really is.

Breathe. If you’re finding that you’re unhappy with the state of your life, just stop for a moment and breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Do nothing but focus on the breath for a minute or so, preferably with your eyes closed if possible. You’ll find that if you do this, things are somehow a little more manageable afterwards (because, believe it or not, this practice sets off a ton of good biochemistry in your body and mind).

Using Financial Success to Find Serenity

Of course, moving yourself down the road of financial success can also help with achieving personal serenity because getting the biggest financial worries off your back goes a very long way toward minimizing stress, and simply having financial resources in your hands eliminates many concerns about the future.

It goes further than that, though. Many of the best practices for achieving financial success also bring along with them a sense of serenity because of how they impact other areas of your life, such as how you think of yourself in relation to others in a more positive way.

Here are four examples of that.

Stop buying things you don’t actually need. If this isn’t something you really need, don’t buy it. Give it time to see if it’s a truly deep want or just a short term desire. If you can, borrow it instead of buying it. This practice not only keeps your money in your pocket, it also keeps you from accumulating lots of things in your home that you individually have less and less time for (because of the sheer number) and spend more and more time managing and organizing instead of enjoying. Go a little minimal and stop adding things to your life that you don’t have time or space for, and you’ll be improving your financial state, too.

Stop worrying about impressing people you don’t actually care about. Don’t worry about dressing to the nines to go to the grocery store. Don’t stress out about driving the nicest car because no one on the road or in the parking lot cares who you are. Don’t buy an amazing house just to impress the people who drive by, who also have no idea who you are. Don’t buy any of those things to “impress” friends and acquaintances who know you so little that they’re actually impacted by what house you live in, because those connections are pretty minor anyway. Stop worrying about what other people think of anything you do, and instead do the things that matter to you (and maybe your true core family and friends) and no one else.

Stop worrying about name brands on the stuff you buy. Name brands really don’t mean much in the big scheme of things. They’re rarely even good indicators of the true quality of an item. Buy store brand items for minor things, and for expensive things, do the homework to figure out what the best bang for the buck for that item is. You’ll often find that the best values out there aren’t the name brands you initially think of. Why is that? The name brands you initially think of are often pounded into your head by a big marketing budget, not by any sort of actual product quality. Don’t choose marketing. Choose value.

Use that saved money to eliminate debt, build an emergency fund, and start saving for life’s big goals. If you genuinely commit to those three steps, and add in a few smart money-saving tactics that simply reduce spending without reducing life quality like switching to LED light bulbs and installing weatherstripping in your home and making sure your car tires are fully inflated, you’re going to see a big drop in your monthly spending. Don’t simply start spending that money on more stuff. Spend it instead to build a financial foundation. Pay off your debts. Build up an emergency fund in your savings account so you can deal with unexpected expenses. Start saving for retirement or, if you have children, for their college education.

Final Thoughts

Almost all of us want serenity in the moment, a sense of internal peace and calmness. There are lots of little ways to grasp it for a moment or two before the flow of life carries us away from it.

It’s a little harder to find lasting serenity. One big approach for doing that is to get rid of some of the biggest sources of stress in our lives and, ideally, turn them into sources of strength. Good personal finance practices can do just that.

These tips together can help you find serenity in the moment without financial cost and can also help you build a life in which lasting serenity is a real part. Moving from an extremely shaky financial situation to a firm financial foundation can do just that.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.