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Arjuna Ardagh Headshot

Financial Sanity

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This just in: A report published by UC Berkeley analyzes IRS statistics for 2012 and shows that the gap between the rich and the poor in America keeps widening. Last year, the infamous one percent of top U.S. earners took home close to 20 percent of household income, while the top ten percent reached a record of almost 50 percent of all income earned.

Only once since we have been able to collect such statistics has this gap been so great, in the roaring 1920s, which culminated in the crash of 1928. Historically, when this kind of imbalance of wealth has happened in a culture it has led to revolution: in Russia in 1917, in France under Napoleon, and in England under Oliver Cromwell are all examples.

Of course this situation of tremendous economic imbalance affects everybody immensely. I hear people complain about it almost every day, in one way or another. And of course it means that there are less resources available for 99 out of 100 people, if one percent are hoarding.

The question is, what can we do about it?

Let's take a quick poll of some popular options. The first, and most popular, is to do nothing at all. Assume that somebody else, who is smarter and more proactive than you, will find a way to put things straight.

The difficulty is that this is not a problem that is going to go away on its own. As you probably know, our economic system is based in usury, which was actually illegal in most parts of the world until a few hundred years ago. It had been considered, by most of the world's religions, to be immoral. Usury allows for the concept of interest, and ensures that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When a small percentage of people control more and more reserves of money, they are able to invest it (or lend it), and expect to accumulate interest in doing so, hence they increase their wealth by doing nothing... except lending money. At the same time, the middle and working classes, having less money at their disposal, are forced to borrow in order to maintain their lifestyle, but must pay interest on the money they borrowed, hence getting increasingly poorer in the process.

The only possible balance to usury is proportional taxation, where richer people are obliged to pay much higher levels of tax than their less fortunate brothers and sisters. It is an idea which has worked well in Northern Europe, but is mysteriously frowned upon in America, even by the working class who would benefit from this redistribution of wealth.

Another option is protest. The Occupy Wall Street movement is really all about trying to take back control of the playground that is owned by small minority. Unfortunately that small minority has almost all of the useful resources on their side. They own the media, they fund candidates for government, and they usually have the sympathy of the police and the military. So good luck with the rebellion.

You know what I think? You are going to laugh in my face when I tell you, but I think the Beatles gave us the solution to our current economic predicament back in the 1960s with these words:

Money can't buy you love.

Ok, ok. Mock as much as you want, that is my story and I am sticking to it. I practice and teach a method called Awakening Coaching. Many of my coaching clients are wealthy people, who definitely fall into that top one percent of earners. Awakening Coaching always begins with the same fundamentally important question:

What is your deepest longing?

By working with so many very wealthy people over many years, I have recognized now, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that having a lot of money is really not all it is cracked up to be. British psychologist Oliver James in his groundbreaking book Affluenza points to a growing body of research that examines the relationship between financial wealth and happiness, or a sense of well-being.

Money and feeling good relate to each other on a bell curve, with the peak being around $74,000 a year. If you make less than 74K (before taxes) then increasing your income will probably allow you to enjoy your life more. But here is the startling other side of the story, which will burst the bubble of the American dream. The people who earn more than $74,000 a year, not only do not increase their sense of well-being, very often it goes down.

A good example would be a man I worked with more than ten years ago. He owned a successful company, with a personal net worth of more than $270 million. He was unhappy, stressed, and driven. In his mid-60's, when I met him, John was up before dawn every day and was the first one in the office and the last to leave. It did not take much investigation in our coaching together to discover that he was driven by the sense of "not enough." It did not matter how much more money he made, he was still driven by the same terror of starvation. We were able to dissolve this quite easily, using a tool we call "Radical Releasing." Within six months, John gave his company to the employees, and has devoted the last years of his life to inspiring philanthropic work. Once the terror was released, he quickly saw that amassing money gave him next to nothing of any real value.

In recent years celebrities like Sean Penn and Russell Brand as well as money men like Warren Buffet have been going on record to tell the rest of us that hoarding money is the booby prize: It does not deliver on its promise.

This, in my opinion, is the fastest road to economic sanity: by changing our shared values. Less than one hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote because it was commonly understood that they didn't have the intelligence to make rational choices. Today, no one in their right mind would make such a claim. We have, together, changed our values. Two hundred years ago, white land owners bought and sold black people as slaves. It was considered normal, no big deal. Today nobody in their wildest dreams would consider such a thing as possible. We have changed our values.

Here are some ways that you and I and everyone we know can make huge contributions to shifting the shared values that promote economic imbalance:

1. Practice gratitude. Focus on all the good things in your life, particularly the ones you did not have to pay for. Give value to friendship, laughter, good health.

2. Practice generosity. Be an example of giving stuff away.

3. Unplug from the celebrity myth. If you have been tempted by People Magazine or watching Lives of the Rich and Famous, think about focusing your energy on a good friend instead.

4. Get in the habit of talking about amassing huge wealth as a social disease. No need to be judgmental, you can speak of it with compassion.

5. Steer your conversations, at work or at home, to questioning our shared values. Values drive everything else. Ask the people close to you "What is your deepest longing?" What values drive your life?

6. Think about getting coached or even becoming a coach. It is the most exquisite relationship that you can bring to your life, and the fastest way to live authentically from the values that are really important to you, instead of from imitation.

Please join me for a seminar this Thursday, Sept. 26, and we will explore these practical steps in more detail. Please use this same link to listen to the replay -- register here.