Money – making sense of the root of all evil

Money, it’s a crime 
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say 
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise
That they’re giving none away

Pink Floyd, Money

For a happiness blogger, money is an obvious topic to cover. In the last year and a half, I’ve written a series of posts on money and happiness.

But how does money affect me?

I hadn’t thought of that so much, until I took a workshop with Sydney Schreiber last month. Sydney’s workshop is titled Making sense of your relationship with money (see intro video here). And indeed, participating helped me reflect on how I use money and what it does for me.

This reflection started already before the workshop: as homework I had to calculate my net worth, or the value of all my (material) possessions, and my annual income. This is not an easy thing to do. When it comes to a collection of books or ties, for instance, do I count the €15 or €20 I bought a book for? Should I consider how much I could earn by selling your ties? And how does it work with gifts when I don’t know their price?

Money has a million different meanings

moneyFrom an association exercise with the group, we could observe that money means something different for everybody. Terms that were mentioned when Sydney asked us to associate went in all directions: from ‘hedonism’, ‘root of all evil’ and ‘pollution, to ‘love’ and ‘pleasure’, and from ‘happiness’ to ‘unhappiness’. For Sydney, none of these associations is right or wrong: he sees money as a blank screen, that represents whatever we project on it. It’s a valid point: money doesn’t have any meaning per se. Fundamentally, it’s merely a piece of paper that gets its meaning because we accept in exchange of books or ties.

How we see oftentimes is influenced by our background. Are we raised with American, European or Asian values? Do we value material possessions, personal creativity, or social harmony most? Do we come from a business-like or a spiritual family?

Another interesting exercise we did was writing our biography with money: when were we first aware that money existed? Had it ever created great possibilities or difficulties? An extract of the one I wrote:

I don’t have many memories about money in my childhood. I probably received around 2 guilders (€0.90) per month when I was around 6 or 7, and 5 guilders (€2.25) when I was nine. Most if not all went to my savings.

I did spend some money on ice cream or pinball machines during holidays. My family usually didn’t spend a lot of money. Saving is important in the Netherlands and we don’t like to waste money.


For something that influences our lives so much, we think surprisingly little about money. One of the takeaways I got is how ambivalent money is to people. It can have a positive as well as a negative influence one. And whilst this seems quite obvious intuitively, psychological research even has been able to prove the effect.

Psychological research shows: money impacts enjoyment

A study from the University of Liège, described by the Scientific American, laid out evidence that money can influence how much we enjoy certain experiences. In two experiments, the researchers tested how participants would enjoy experiences. Half of the participants were primed as they were shown a picture of money; the other half did not. Then, they were asked to do a psychological test. The results showed that the first group scored lower on enjoyment of pleasant experiences than the second.

In a second test, the same results were replicated in a different fashion. With again half of the participants given a stimulus of money (and the other group none), two groups were asked to eat a piece of chocolate. On average, the people who had seen the image of money munched away their piece of chocolate in 13 seconds less: 32 seconds for those primed with money; and 45 for those who didn’t have their experience spoiled by this exposure.

All this makes clear that money can have quite a significant influence on our experiences. Sometimes that may be problematic, other moments it may not. But in either case, it should be within our control. For that, it’s useful to have insight in your relationship to money.

For more about Sydney’s workshop, see

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