The Power of Money – the Bad and the Good

By Peter Brill   |   January 24, 2019

Q. I have my own money and I inherited some more from my parents. I find I am very confused about what to do with it. I buy things I don’t really need, and I give to charity but mostly only at the end of the year. I want to do something bigger and give back to my community but where do I start? I find that I am fearful about the money. I have even gone to a financial planner and we determined I have plenty. Can you help? – Gloria in Santa Barbara

Money is so central to our lives, how we think about and use it, that it alters our consciousness and values in hidden ways. Surprisingly, studies show that people are more comfortable talking about sex than they are about money. By becoming conscious of our relationship to money, we can find freedom, openness, joy, and truth. We worry about money, but don’t understand the hidden way that money restricts our spirit, where it can be a way to increased passion and meaning and freedom. Let’s see how.

As a psychiatrist, medical doctor, professor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and impact investor, I have had many different experiences with people and their money – the wealthy and the poor. I worked with wealthy people, chief executives of powerful organizations, and family-owned businesses. I saw how money distorted lives and families. I saw the way money and our relationship to it governs, dominates, and stresses our lives. I worked with some of the wealthiest families where money was used as a means of control and punishment that restricted and hurt the development of their children. I saw wealthy executives endlessly strive for more money that they didn’t need simply to prove to themselves how successful they were, but they felt like prisoners in their own self-constructed cells. Studies of income and happiness show that there is no increase in happiness above about $70,000 per year. This is true in over 40 countries studied. Despite the evidence, we believe money will bring us happiness.

An examined and conscious life has become the watchword of the enlightened. But how many of us examine deeply our use of money and how it reflects our values. We search for meaning, wholeness, and peace. Reflecting on our relationship to money is an enormously important part of the search. Unfortunately, our obsession with money causes many to worry (no matter how much money they have) that they don’t or won’t have enough of it. So, they live in a life of fear instead of with a full heart and joy.

Mostly money only has the power we assign to it.

I believe that under their fears and upsets, even the deepest ones, everyone wants to love and be loved and to make a difference with their lives. But the money-culture has conditioned us to slowly lose our most deeply human values and no longer pursue the ones we truly hold close to our heart. 

Anxiety about money can be broken into two categories: factual and emotional. Factually, you have determined with an adviser that you have enough. But emotionally, you remain anxious so it’s about the meaning that money has for you.

Does more money give you more status? Do the latest material objects make you feel you are better than others? Do you find you buy things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t know or don’t care about? Or are you just afraid of growing older and magically think the money will prevent it?

It’s ego that creates anxiety about money if it’s not a poverty problem. It’s about ego and identity. How will I be seen, who will I be, have I succeeded, how will I be treated? When you begin to be concerned about others – about philanthropy, about goodness –your mindset changes, and your anxiety decreases. But in this vast sea of materialism, it’s hard to see that shore. Haven’t we all been judged or have judged others for how we dress, what we own or how rich our experiences are?

What if you could truly feel that you are living out your values? That you are coming from a place of compassion and wisdom instead of fear and greed. What if you could do that without risking your economic security?

What are your values? Have you stopped to really reflect and decide? Is simply having more money, no matter what its impact on the world, going to make you happier and more fulfilled? Are you worried about the world your children will face if global warming continues unabated? Do you consider social justice vital to democracy? Does violence to women move you? Do children who fail to learn to read tug at your heart? 

Of course, there are endless problems of society, people and world, and you can’t change them all. 

What do you think needs to change to make a better world? What really tugs at your heart?

If you used your money to support your values, what would you change, improve, and nourish?

What if you could invest your money more effectively and with the same or less risk you currently face in the investment world?

If you could find assurance that it was safe, as safe as where you put your money now, would you use some of it to do good?

Then the question becomes “Where?” Water, timber, environment, global warming, poverty, social justice…

In future articles, we will present the evidence that with impact investing it can be done as safely as investing in the normal stock market. Some say it is safer because it doesn’t face the huge ups and downs of the market. It is investing in a sustainable future, not an exploitive one based on the next quarter. 

If you believed it could be possibly true that you could use your money to express your values, safely, would you put your toe in the water? Coming from a different mindset will certainly decrease your anxiety.

I welcome all questions and comments and can be reached at


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