Money or lack of, is perhaps the one subject that is on most people’s minds. It seems to exert so much control over our lives to an extent that even the simplest decision seems to hinge on it.
Most social scientists believe that having some good cash gives our lives a particular rhythm, a certain charm, a perception of the world and our place in it. “We have been conditioned to accept that money is what makes it possible to live a good life, provide for our children, and as the most sought after means to gain recognition and acceptance within our society,” says Ms Judith Tonkei a Nairobi-based social scientist.
She says there are only a few people in the world who are not crazy about money, the rest dream to swim in an ocean filled with notes and coins.
“Almost everyone wants money, and we often need more of it for whatever reason. When we have money in our hands, we fancy many nice things,” she told Money.
“Most people think that money is great and powerful. That is why they spend a lot of time thinking about money and the way they want it to grow so that they can have more and more.”
Striking it rich
However, it is only an illusion that we are in control of our money: in actual fact we do not notice how subtly and intensively money exercises control over us.
Most people may not admit it, but haven’t we all secretly dreamt of striking it rich on the lottery someday or making a big buck in our businesses and jobs?
Sometimes money is considered to be something evil but nevertheless people want to have it and are ready to do everything to get it. After all, thousands of people get up every day and go to work to spend eight hours there, just to earn something at the end of the month.
Apparently, the main argument when young people choose their future occupation is the amount of money they are project to make in future. That is why there are a few people who want to work in less paying professions.
So what impact does money have in the society? Mr Peter Mwangangi, a clinical psychologist, says money, irrespective of its material or symbolical form, has its own mode of moving from one person to another and this makes it a means of social interaction.
“Money is a social tool, a social invention created by social will. The mechanism of social interaction by means of money can be summarised through appropriation and alienation. This is the social order for redistributing of social values and allocation of resources,” says the psychologist.
“What has been mine becomes someone else’s and what has been someone else’s becomes mine according to the ability to pay. Money serves as a means of universal exchangeability. This is the source of the immense value of money for our society.”
But why do we need money? Well, the answer is simple. We need it to survive. If there is no money in the world, people wouldn’t be able to exchange their goods for ever. Money is the equivalent of goods people produce. “People trick, cheat, lie, kill, steal, hate because of money. And they don’t trouble about the human feelings and human relations as well as result of it. And that is the base to think money is evil,” says Ms Tonkei.
It is largely believed that most people inherit their behaviours and attitudes towards money from influential people in their lives such as parents. It is also said that cultural norms and religious teachings influence people’s perception of money.
“Since we need it for survival, money has a huge influence in our lives. No one is born with “money sense.” We all learn by what we see, hear and experience, and parents have a very strong influence on all of these. For instance, if a child is brought up in a family where the parents give too much attention on money, then it means that the child will grow up thinking that money is the biggest thing on earth than anything else,” adds Ms Tonkei.Experts have also been interested on more pathological behaviours associated with money such as gambling.
“The main reason that people love to gamble is the potential to win money. Why else would millions of people repeatedly buy lottery tickets when they know they are more likely to lose than to win? While everyone hopes to hit the jackpot, for most people a small win is enough to keep them coming back. Gambling is a good example on the impact of money on human behaviour!” she says.
Some behavioural psychologists have found that increased social rejection and physical pain both lead to a desire for more money. Counting money too, is said to reduce physical or mental pain (if someone is sick) and make him or her have fewer feelings of social rejection.
Psychologist Kathleen Vohs, writes that being overly preoccupied with money, especially for the wrong reasons, is characteristic of those who score highly on a measure of materialism, and such people, she says, tend to be less happy than others.
“Studies suggest that, even thinking about money can easily isolate an individual. And people who are primed with images of money are not only more self reliant, but also less likely to help others,” writes Prof. Vohs in her paper The Psychological Consequences of Money.
In his book The Psychology of Money, author Adrian Furnham, says that age, marital status and level of education tells a lot on the relationship and attitudes most people have regarding money.
“Our research reveals that older people are more positive about saving money than young people. On the hand, people with high level of education tend to be good at saving compared to people with less education. Marital status also plays a specific part; those with families tend to be keen on spending money than single people with less or no responsibility.”
Financial advisors say that the psychology of money is how people’s beliefs, expectations, and feelings influence their financial success and life abundance. “If psychological factors influence your spending habits, working on the psychological aspects while taking steps to reduce debt and spend less than you earn, will greatly increase your chances of long-term success,” says Kevin Odongo a Nairobi based financial expert.