THE BLOG

Geneen Roth Talks About Money, Food and True Happiness

07/30/2013 05:57 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2013

There is something slightly taboo about discussing people's habits when it comes to food or money. And yet, Geneen Roth -- a New York Times best-selling author -- writes about both subjects with clarity, humor and a refreshing honesty. In her best-selling book, Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, she writes, "how you eat is how you live, or how you do anything is how you do everything." This message is echoed in her latest book, Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money, which tells the tale of lessons learned after losing her life savings to the infamous Bernie Madoff. Geneen's books drill down to the core of our deep-seated fears -- using money and food as a doorway for self-knowledge, providing rich insights into how we live our lives.

Suza: In Women, Food and God you write, 'When we are bowled over by grief, and our response is to eat pizza, we halt our ability to move through the grief as well as our confidence that it won't destroy us. If you don't allow a feeling to begin, you don't allow it to end.' This is such a brilliant insight.

Geneen: I think most of us are frightened of our feelings. We learned to put them away or try to fix them or get rid of them, and it doesn't work, particularly with big feelings like sadness or grief. The problem with eating to make feelings go away is that they don't go away. You actually double your suffering instead of halving it. For instance, if you're grieving somebody's death, they're still going to have died when you're done eating a chocolate cake. There's a hope that something can make an uncomfortable feeling better, but it doesn't. It's much kinder to yourself to learn how to name your feelings and get support for moving through them. I think it's hard to do this alone, again, particularly with big feelings.

Suza: You write, 'The biggest obstacle to any kind of transformation is the inner voice that tells you it's impossible. The Voice is merciless, ravaging, life destroying.' I see the voice like an unhealthy relationship you are having with yourself.

Geneen: Psychologists call the voice the superego, the internalized parent, the judge, the inner critic, whatever you want to call it. A kid develops it by the time he or she is four. It's the way kids internalize the parental voices. Don't put your hand in fire. Don't run into the street. Its function is to keep you in line. Your relationship to yourself can have a neutral quality, too. It doesn't have to have this judgmental, merciless, sometimes abusive and emotionally violent voice that is blaming and punishing. It smacks you around, and there's nothing you do that's good enough to that voice. Many people have that voice. I had to do a lot of work with my inner voice. It still comes up for me, and at this point, I can name it and see that it's not my friend.

Suza: Tell me about the neutral relationship with yourself.

Geneen: I would say that it's possible to have a kind relationship with yourself where you are aware of what hurts you. You're aware when someone says something that triggers an old pattern in you. It's possible to say to yourself, 'Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry that that came up for you,' and to be kind to yourself, but that takes a lot of maturity.

Suza: How do we become aware?

Geneen: I think the awareness has to be preceded by some kind of desire to want to know more... the desire to know the meaning of your life. Some kind of recognition that maybe there's more to life than what meets the eye. I call it 'the flame.' I tell people there are three steps. There's awareness and it gives you the choice, and the choice allows you to act in a different way than you normally act.

Suza: In Lost and Found, you write about the suffering you experienced when you lost your life savings to Bernie Madoff. When you told your friend you'd lost everything, her response was, 'I promise that nothing of value has been lost.'

Geneen: It was aggravating to hear that. I was speechless, but I couldn't live through a night if I was going to be caught up in what I had lost. The only way I could actually live through the days and nights was to bring my attention back to what I hadn't lost. It took constant vigilance to stop my mind from wandering anywhere but the present moment. In the present moment, everything was fine, so there wasn't ever a moment that came where things weren't fine. Also, when I kept bringing myself back to what I hadn't lost and what I had enough of, I got happier and happier daily.

Suza: We can be aware in certain parts of our life, as you were about food, but then there are other parts in our lives we are in denial.

Geneen: I think money is one of those areas where people feel like it's different than all the other areas of their life. Money is separate. It brings up so much fear, anxiety and scarcity. The main thing that money brings up for many people is scarcity. It's fear-based because we're back to the feeling of not enough. The lack never gets filled, because, if it's an inner lack, nothing is going to make you feel like you are enough. You're always focused on the thing you don't have, not on what you do have. It's the 'not-enoughness,' that needs to be addressed directly.

Suza: Our underlying beliefs about money persist, if we don't understand the roots of our discomfort and the way we see ourselves. Unconsciously, we revert back to the same behavior over and over again.

Geneen: Just because somebody has prosperity doesn't mean they believe they have enough or that they are satisfied and content. Prosperity clubs are built on the underlying belief that having more will make you happy. It's the same way if people believe that when they get thin, they will be happy. If you think it's going to take away your suffering or fill the lack, then you'll be disappointed. Usually, what happens is that people gain the weight back, and then they look forward to losing the weight again, thinking that the next time will be different. With money, it's, 'I need a bigger car,' or 'I need a bigger house,' or 'When I get the job promotion,' but all the research on happiness shows there is absolutely no correlation between having a lot of money and being happy. None! After initial needs are met -- having enough food, shelter and comfort -- there is no correlation between money and happiness. I think that's a difficult thing for people to believe.

Suza: When we are focused outward how can we experience inner peace, true happiness and self-love?

Geneen: The love for ourselves is already there. It doesn't need to be created. It's getting clouded over by behavioral patterns, beliefs and images from the media. I think we all naturally want to be at peace. We just need to look and see what's getting in our way.

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