Book Review
Title: "The Psychology of Wealth: Understand Your Relationship with Money and Achieve Prosperity"
Author: Charles Richards, Ph.D.
Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 2012; 256 pages; $26

My mom likes to tell a story about how, when I was a child, my father had only a $20 bill to leave under my pillow from the tooth fairy. Instead of giving my parents the delighted reaction they expected, I got upset, demanding real money — hard money — coins. (Oh, how quickly we grow up; I was still quite young when I acquired the mantra, "Add a zero, please.")

It is only in the minds of the very young that our relationships with money are so uncomplicated. As we get older, many of us crave more money and its trappings, while also chattering about how more money causes more problems.

Our cultural stories include tales about Scrooge, who has so much and is so stingy; and Leona Helmsley, who left her dog millions but reportedly shortchanged her employees and contractors by the nickels and dimes.

We cluck and click over stars who’ve run through hundreds of millions of dollars, and over others with massive tax liens, as well as over those of our friends and relatives who are struggling so desperately, have lost homes or jobs, or simply are battling to recover from the recession.

So, what exactly is the ideal relationship with money? It’s clearly not just about how much or how little we have. And this is the premise of "The Psychology of Wealth: Understand Your Relationship with Money and Achieve Prosperity," by psychotherapist and executive coach Charles Richards.

Over the years, Richards found that many of his well-off clients were tortured by the fear of losing everything, while acquaintances of much more meager means felt prosperous and behaved consciously with their money in ways that both aligned with their values and perpetuated their prosperity.

This observation prompted Richards to investigate what he deemed the psychology of wealth, interviewing people at all points along the financial spectrum who live balanced and prosperous lives, as well as experts.

The result of Richards’ investigation, "The Psychology of Wealth," introduces readers to 11 answers Richards gleaned from this investigation — answers to the question of what it takes to create an inner sense of abundance and meaning in our financial lives. Here are the three I found to be the most profound:

1. Define "success" and "wealth" for yourself. Richards points to his own family’s origins as an example of our culture’s ever-evolving definitions of wealth and success: from slavery to prosperous, land- and Model T-owning Southerners in just a generation or two.

He also points out that even these prosperous grandparents would feel like they’d stumbled into a palace if they walked into the average middle-class American home of today, showing just how much our culture of borrowing and consumerism has impacted what we see as prosperous — especially baby boomers and younger generations.

Defining both success and wealth on your own terms might lead you to believe goals are possible against the voices of naysayers, and might even lead you to create a life that prioritizes the impact you leave on your community, rather than the number of dollars and cents you amass.

Richards illustrates precisely these points with some interesting stories of successful people who grew up with poverty, discrimination or other tough circumstances.

Creating your own definitions also holds the promise of keeping your spending, debting and career choices on track to create the life you want, rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses.

2. Cultivate the seeds of wealth. Richards tells the story of a colleague who came from a wealthy family, but walked away from inheritance rights to the family business out of a desire to work in the nonprofit sector, where he felt he could create the life of meaning and purpose he desired.

Not long after moving across the country, he connected with the founder of an organic foods company, eventually buying half the company, growing it and then selling it for millions of dollars.

Richards uses this example to point to the truth that the "seeds of success," once sown, can and should be cultivated no matter the specific facts of the situation. The seeds of "courage, intelligence, a conscious and personalized vision of prosperity and self-worth," once possessed, will cause an individual to thrive, no matter what sector, job or business they work in.

3. Live consciously. Richards urges us to approach our lives and finances with a conscious awareness of our "circumstances, motivations, and true aims … assess(ing) what is meaningful to us and what we must do in order to bring that meaning to fruition."

This is the opposite of buying, borrowing and living on autopilot, or inattentively. In fact, such inattentive borrowing and spending is, according to Richards, precisely how Americans got into the financial mess so many are in today, as it detaches our money moves from our overall goals and objectives in life.

This line item of Richards’ philosophy can be executed by readers by avoiding all-or-nothing rules of thumb about money, and instead getting very clear on what you value, and letting that drive your every decision about earning, saving, spending and borrowing.

If you’re looking for a concrete financial strategy or even a systematic approach to repairing the way you think and feel about money, I can think of more appropriate books than "The Psychology of Wealth."

However, if you are the type that gleans inspiration from the stories of others who have overcome the same obstacles you face, or you are looking for a less formal source of encouragement to uplevel your thinking about what wealth means to you, you will find just that inspiration and encouragement in "The Prosperity of Wealth."

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