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Avoid the debt-fuelled materialism trap

The Christmas holidays are trailing right into this week. After the crazy crush to satisfy every person's wish list in the family, there is plenty of time to think about yourself, your future direction in life, or just comfortable easy things — just the simple pleasure of being — where you are.

Here is an assortment of thoughts to reflect upon, act upon if you like, find amusing or not, and share with those you love. If you've reached the complete and utter saturation point on holiday festivities, give yourself permission to let your eyes glaze over, return to the soothing holiday buffet of dark n' stormies, mac n' cheese, peas n' rice, turkey gobbler, fluffy mashed white potatoes and their cousins, orange and sweet, read a book (electronic or print), experience sunshine, warm breezes, and more in ‘life Bermudaful'. You have earned it.

Celebrations are not all about food and parties, spiritual elements are there, too, more often than not — even if your belief isn't about any religion. We did come from somewhere. We are here. We do have a destiny. We can seek to live a good life, or help someone with theirs.

It is true that many people cope rather poorly with Christmas. Depression, feelings of failure and sadness are often heightened by frustration and inability to provide for the Christmas that the family deserves. But how do you define what the best Christmas means to you and your family, or any holiday of just one day for that matter?

People, presents, parties, popularity, privilege, money power or fiscal prudence? Is Christmas all of the above, or a simple grateful gathering of the clan. Glad to be together, glad to be alive.

It is inevitable, even subliminal that we tend to play the mental comparison-to-our-friends / neighbours game.

“What did you get for Christmas? Was Santa good to you?”

Don't let yourself fall into that trap. Everyone puts on a good front when they have on their public face.

How do you know what really goes on behind closed doors? The plethora of multiple material things, the photographic display of family unity, the boasting about physical and financial accomplishments — do not mean much when internally the family is in financial chaos carrying debilitating credit card debt.

Readers, in my experience in all the years of financial counselling (and I was envious, too), almost always, those individuals who displayed the most beautiful homes, the best clothes, the professional business, the gorgeous jewellery, the expensive cars (one family gave their son a customised antique truck), the fabulous vacations actually had little asset substance. By that I mean, no serious stable savings of any kind. Only huge recurring credit card bills!

Flash with no cash, inevitably leads to a personal financial crash.

Appearances mean nothing when we are not who we pretend to be.

We cannot focus on others, feel envy, wish we were like them. We can only focus on ourselves and our families — to know that we are unique and to be the best that we can be according to our personal code of integrity, caring, values, and beliefs.

Personal success is directly tied to personal esteem. You may find a study of executives called The Many Colours of Success: What do Executives Want Out of Life by Manfred FR Kets De Vries in 2009, very, very interesting as well.

No, this is not a joke. Your further premise is why bother, this document cannot be anything relevant to my life — and readers, that is exactly what I thought. In fact, when I stumbled upon the treatise, I thought the title was more than a bit self-serving, not by the author, but the way that we (well, most of us) think about those upper echelon people.

After all, when you are an executive, haven't you already gotten every success and thing you want out of life? It appears that executives are not so different from the rest of us with the overwhelming majority (of the 160 interviewed) placing family first in the growth toward success.

When I deigned to abandon my scepticism to read this serious study, I only had to jump to page 5 for the first illumination factor. Titled Defining Success, it states: “Success touches us all, from the lowliest worker to the most elevated executive. For most of us, it is a highly emotional experience.

“It gives us highs, but it can also bring us lows. And for many of us, our definition of success is what gives us a bearing on life; it points to where we should be heading. Our perception of success influences the way we measure our days and desires.”

To define what success is, on an individual basis, the study then focuses on the achievements of two very, very different successful people: a Russian billionaire and an African Nobel Prize winner, human rights and environmental activist. The first individual's success is all about money; the Nobel Prize winner's success is all about meaning.

And, therein lies the illumination, the intense sparkles for you of the star in your universe, and for your day and for the end of the year 2015.

Is your life about money or meaning?

What will make you the happiest?

How much of each attribute do you need, in order to feel good about yourself?

Food for thought on your journey of life into the New Year 2016.

Happy New Year, everyone. Much meaningful success to you all!

Sources

How to Feel Good About Yourself (http://www.wikihow.com/Feel-Good-About-Yourself)

The Many Colours of Success: What do Executives want out of Life? Manfred FR Kets de Vries 2009/19/EFE/IGLC INSEAD, The Business School for the World. (http://www.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/details_papers.cfm?id=25913)

The article is based on the responses of 160 senior executives to questions of what success means to them. Eight major categories of success emerged: family, wealth, work/career, recognition/fame, power, winning/overcoming challenges, friendships, and meaning. Experiences of success depended on “intrinsic” or “external” validation, and the inner scripts that these executives had developed while growing up, which influenced their perceptions of success and how they experienced it. The qualities of focus, persistence, and self-mastery, among others, featured in the scripts of many successful people et al.

Martha Harris Myron CPA PFS JSM Masters of Law: International Tax and Financial Services, appointed to the Professional Tax Advisory Council: American Citizens Abroad. https://americansabroad.org/, principal: The Pondstraddler Life™ Consultancy provides international financial planning for Bermuda residents, their multinational families and international connections. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

Meaning of Christmas: too much festive spending can overstretch your finances

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Published December 28, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 27, 2015 at 5:53 pm)

Avoid the debt-fuelled materialism trap

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