Emotional Intelligence and Money

I love the saying “there is only one relationship here.” Whether it is our diet, our family, bosses and coworkers, or the things we own, we are always in relationship with ourselves first – and then we project this intra-personal relationship out into the world.

So it is with our relationship with the pieces of certificates that we earn, spend, save, and give throughout our lives – our money. There are spiritual values regarding the love of money as the root of all evil and cultural values as in the pursuit of all happiness (prosperity) as the American dream. Money makes the world go around; time is money; show us the money; and still, money can’t buy us love. Would we have a different relationship with money if instead of it being cold, hard cash – it were a warm, soft, cotton-linen blend?

What does money have to do with our emotional intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to integrate our thinking brain with our feeling brain to be able to choose wisely. Scientifically, it is our ability to make wise choices even when our brains are flooded with emotional producing chemicals that cause us to make poor choices. The foundational skill of EQ is self-awareness and the understanding of how our thoughts and feelings control our behavior.

When we spend money, we get this amazing emotional “cocktail” of adrenaline and dopamine. And this drug combination gets even stronger when we perceive a good deal. Five pairs of socks for $20.00 is a much better reward (“hit”) in the brain than $4.00 per pair. Buying is sensory and emotional. Starbucks figured this out when they started simulating smells in their stores. Online air travel impacts our emotions with, there are only 3 seats left at this price, blinking across the screen so our adrenaline (anxiety) is heightened. ACT NOW, snooze you lose!!!

Netflix had me when they would send little discs to my mailbox every week. A contributing factor in Blockbuster’s demise as I was getting a drug shot of adrenaline/dopamine just by opening my mailbox.  It was not about convenience, it was a surprise (“hit”) in the mail every third day. In money matters, our limbic system, or feelings, are often driving the car way below the level of our cognition. Spending money is thrilling to the brain; saving money is boring to the brain.

Retailers know this: getting what you expect produces no “hit” to the brain – when a retailer Wow’s you – more dopamine. As consumers, we want novel stimulus rather than routine stimulus. And the quest of every retailer is to find ways to make the stimulus stronger through better sensory experiences.  Consumer loyalty is emotional.

Emotional Intelligence and YOUR money relationship

So how are you doing with you? When it comes to money are you relating as the parent, the child, or as the adult? Are you driving the car, or are you the passenger. Consider these for self-reflection:

  • How do you feel when you balance your checkbook or pay your bills? Happy, Fear, Excitement, Anxiety, Neutral?
  • Could you go an entire month not spending future income on a credit card, or would you fear losing out on a bigger, better deal in chasing those points? (People who use plastic spend on average 18% more per month than cash. Spending cash hurts the brain – less dopamine, more cortisol – producing the feeling of anxiety, which is not an appetizing brain cocktail.)
  • If you made coffee at home in the morning, rather than stopping at Starbucks, would it feel the same? I actually get a hit when I walk into their stores, even before the drink. The community environment is part of the unique sensory experience. Or as Dr. Nakahara from the Brain Science Institute described this phenomenon as “The anticipation of the anticipation of the reward.”

It is true that money can’t buy us love – however, that soft, piece of cotton-linen blend sure does stimulate an emotional brain cocktail of pleasure that can be addictive.

Bartender, I’ll have another!!

Tracey Adams

Tracey has been teaching emotional intelligence within corporations and academia for over thirteen years. The evolution of her own personal work has sharpened her purpose of guiding other powerful women on the journey of self-discovery, personal power, and well being.

Partnering with the Well-Being experts at Gallup – this curriculum is transformational both in content and design. Her doctorate research (also in partnership with Gallup) explored the correlations of emotional intelligence and leader effectiveness. Tracey can be found in Portland, Oregon where she is raising two amazing teenagers, and facilitates emotional intelligence retreats for women and corporate teams.