Is money depressing you?


MR. MICHAEL LIERSCH:  Hey, humans.  I'm Michael Liersch and this is My Next Move podcast, presented by JP Morgan.  I'm a behavioral scientist, which is just a fancy way of saying I help humans understand their behaviors to make better money decisions.  Each episode, I take a look at our interactions with money and consider science-based techniques to help you move closer to your financial goals.

In this episode, we're going to talk about why money might be depressing me.  This topic is really tough because when people think of depression, a lot of times they go in the clinical direction, being clinically depressed.  What I'd like you to do is reframe a little bit in terms of this episode, which is when we looked up depression, it was really about this idea of something that was weighing you down on a daily basis, the habitual idea that money is really just weighing you down or dragging you down regularly.

We want to ask ourselves, why is that happening?  Some people say, well, it's the lack of money that's doing that.  Some people say that it's actually the excess of money that's doing that.  No matter where you're at in your financial life, money does have this effect on people.  It's especially tough because—and I'm just going to be honest with you.  I don't like it when I hear this.  Usually, I'm not judgmental like that, but I will tell you, I don't like it when I hear this.  A lot of people when they hear someone else has a lot of money, they'll say, isn't that a good problem to have.

I really think that really is not as empathetic as it should be because money has different effects on different people.  Money, in and of itself, doesn't do positive things.  It really doesn't.  It has the opportunity to do positive things, but it really does have the opportunity to do negative things to people.  We really need to respect that.  When you hear that narrative, I'd really like you to push back on it, that money can have different, what we call in dorky behavioral finance terms, valences.  They can be positive or they can be negative.

We even found that in research we did.  We have a research report where we asked people what money represented in their family, the words they’d use.  They use things like security.  We'd say that's positive.  Opportunity, that's positive.  Freedom, that's very positive.  Then there were negative words people used, like confusion, uncertainty, burden, conflict.  Those kinds of ideas came out in the research too.  We need to really say money has two sides here.  Whether you don't have enough money, or you have more than enough money, those feelings can come out.  Let's respect that.  Let's be okay with that.  If you'd like more information about the topic, go to where you'll find more.

When we get in this idea of how money really makes you feel, and whether it's positive or negative, I'd really like you to think about why that's occurring.  For many people, there are three reasons why that's occurring.  I'm not saying these are in any order of priority, or importance.  One that comes up often is a social feeling around money.  There's a narrative that money and people who have money, that automatically gives them privilege over others and that somehow, money or having a lot of money is a bad thing.  There's that narrative out there.  I hear it from people all the time.  That makes people want to hide the amount of money they have socially because they don't want other people to have that judgment on them that isn't that a good problem to have kind of judgment.

A lot of times that can actually make people very, very unhappy because they can't be their authentic selves.  They can't actually communicate to other people how much they have, even in terms of giving to others or the things they'd like to do with their money.  They need to somehow not display that or not share that or show that to other people.  Since money is actually part of who we are, it does actually become a big part of people's identities because how you earn that money, you might have done it through a business or hard work, that may be something that you're proud of.  Not being able to share that is tough.

Also, if you received money, an extraordinary gift from somebody, you can call that an inheritance, whatever you want to call that, you received this gift, that may be something you want to share with people too because that was hugely important to that person who gave it to you, and you feel good about receiving that.  You want to have an impact, a positive impact with that.  Not being able to share that socially is tough.

Similarly, the lack of having money, that creates social anxiety too because there is another narrative out there, which is about doing fun things and traveling and experiences and giving back, but you know what?  That takes money too.  It takes time, which oftentimes equates to money to do all these wonderful things for society, and do all these wonderful things, in terms of experiences, look good all the time.  That's challenging too.

Really, really thinking about whether it's the social narrative on one side or the other that's creating this feeling is really important because you need to think about who you're surrounding yourself with.  Are those people contributing to that narrative that's making you feel negative?  If so, I really, really encourage you to start thinking about redesigning who you're surrounding yourself with?

In a similar way, what are you watching?  What are you exposing yourself to, in terms of social media, making sure that that's not contributing to this narrative that's making you feel conflicted around money or negative around money really important too?  There's a lot of research out there that suggests that human beings who really surround themselves with positive human beings, surround themselves with positive narratives, and I hope this isn't shocking to you.

Sometimes there's research that I find kind of amusing because it seems pretty natural that if you surround yourself with positive things, that you'll just be more positive and successful.  You know what?  It's true.  That is true.  Really, really on that first point, think about who you're surrounding yourselves with, what you're surrounding yourselves with, and make sure that that's actually positively contributing to your money messages.

The second one that I want you to think about is this idea of your personal narrative with money.  A lot of people think about the money itself and where it came from.  Many times that's actually what's contributing to the negative narrative.  I'm going to give you an example of a client I worked with.  They told me that they didn't like their money.  I was shocked because they made their money through hard work.  Hard work, they had their own business, and frankly, worked 24, seven for 30 years.  They were proud of that work, but at the same time, they weren't able to spend time with their family.  They weren't able to spend time with their friends.  They felt like they'd sacrificed relationships.  In retrospect, they started then rejecting the money because it represented that lack of relationships for those three decades.

I really worked with them to help them reframe it.  I said, well, that was your identity.  It still is your identity.  In retrospect, you can reevaluate all these things and say, I would have done something differently, but we can't go back in time.  Why don't we look forward?  I'd encourage you, if you have this mindset, look forward and say, that was that point in time and it made sense in that moment, and that's okay.  Maybe it didn't make sense in that moment and that's okay, too.

Let's look forward.  What could we do differently that would actually make us feel better about how we're spending our time, how we're spending our energy, and ultimately the impact we want that money to have, which is essentially an accumulation of that time you spent working so hard.  How do I want that to impact myself and the people that I care about because then that can redesign the meaning of money or the meaning attached to that money from something negative to something opportunistic and positive?

The third and final thing I want you to really consider here in terms of your why money may be making you feel not happy or depressed is this idea of the morality around money.  We've alluded to it in the first two of the social aspects and the personal aspects, but this third category is really distinct, which is a lot of people have a moral issue with money in general.  That could be related to our global phenomenon where there is a very wide dispersion in terms of the resources people have available to them.  People say some people have, some people don't have.  That's challenging for a lot of people.  It could be literally the way in which the money was produced or earned.  Sometimes that moral piece really is very difficult to overcome.

What I’d suggest is, if you're in that mindset, there are many professionals.  That's difficult for someone to get through on their own.  In fact, actually, the first two, it's difficult to get through that on your own too.  Ask for help, whether it's professional help, help from family, help from friends.  That goes to that who you're surrounding yourself with.  Ask for help from them, and really try to address it on a regular basis, but do it slowly and incrementally.

It doesn't need to all transform at once.  You should be comfortable with the fact that money does have this effect on many people around the globe, and that's okay.  There are ways to get through it and asking for help doesn't make us any less of a human being.  It actually is a wonderful thing to ask for help because that gets us to the other side of how we're feeling and then allows us to have that money, which actually can positively impact you and the human beings around you.  Have that money have its intended impact on the people you care about and the communities you care about and yourself.

What I'd like you to take away from this episode is the following.  Think about why money may be making you feel depressed, especially on a habitual basis.  Is it social?  Is it personal?  Is it a moral issue that you have?  Secondly, ask for help and really think about who you're surrounding yourself with so that you can make small steps toward reframing that relationship with money over time.

That's it for this episode of My Next Move, produced by JP Morgan.  If there's a topic you human beings want me to discuss, email it to  I read all of the suggestions myself, and there have been some very interesting ones so far.  Please keep them coming.  If you like My Next Move, please tell your friends and rate the show wherever you listen.  I'm Michael Liersch reminding you to make your next move today.


Is money making you feel depressed habitually? Behavioral expert Michael Liersch spends this My Next Move financial podcast discussing the social, personal or moral narratives which may be contributing to how you feel. In all these cases, Michael suggests asking for help, from a professional or someone close. Addressing these problems can allow your money to have its intended impact—on yourself, and the people and communities you care about most. 

My Next Move

Join Michael Liersch as he shares goals-based planning insights and delves into actions that can help listeners strengthen their financial health.

Learn more