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The Soul of Money

written by Denise Clegg 21 December 2008

Denise Clegg, MAPP 08, is Program Officer for the Positive Neuroscience project at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. She also serves as a facilitator for the Penn Resilience Program and is a daily editor for Positive Psychology News Daily.

Denise writes on the 20th of each month, and her articles are here.

Several years ago, my mother gave me The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist, and it is one of the best gifts I’ve received. In the book, Lynn presents a candid, genuinely transformative treatise about the meaning and impact of our relationship to money.moneytree.JPG

Rereading her book today, in light of recent research on money and happiness–as well as the collapse of the financial markets–Lynn seems a bit of a philosopher-mystic.

Unlike the marginalized experts who predicted this crisis based on economic theory and informed skepticism, Lynn predicts the collapse from a deep perspective about natural order and the human spirit. In 2003, she wrote that the work of our time is to hospice the death of unsustainable systems and foster the birth of new ones: “To hospice those systems that have reached their limits and are unsustainable is not to kill them, but with some compassion and love, to witness their disintegration, and then to midwife with compassion and love the development and creation of new structures, systems, contexts, and constructs that support and empower sustainable ways of being” (p. 252).

Lynn writes beautifully about the collaborative systems that now have potential to grow, but her most powerful gift to the reader is a new perspective on one’s individual relationship with money. Whether you scrape funds together to get by, or have a great deal of personal wealth, this book is for you. Regardless of your financial position or perspective, this book can make you feel more powerful and at peace.

Lynn draws on personal experience and a long career as a non-profit fundraiser when discussing the meaning and power of money. Telling stories about people of every class, race, and continent, Lynn notes that people are happiest when they give away money as an expression of their love and values. “The experience of true wealth comes from sharing, expressing that we have and are enough” (pg. 116).philanthropy.jpg

Scientific studies are validating such observations. This year, psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues found spending money on other people makes people significantly happier than spending money on themselves. Ironically, when the researchers asked people to predict what would make them happier, a significant majority predicted incorrectly (in light of scientific evidence), believing that spending on themselves would make them most happy, and the more money the better.

Dunn’s work builds on a solid body of evidence that people are basically terrible at predicting what will make them happy. Two great books on that topic are Barry Schwartz’ The Paradox of Choice and Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness.

For more proof of pleasure, look to the 2006 study by Jorge Moll and colleagues investigating the neural mechanisms related to altruism. The researchers conducted fMRI studies of people’s brains while the subjects considered donating to a cause they believed in, versus receiving money themselves, or opposing a cause they disliked with a donation. Altruistic behavior, specifically giving away money to a cause one’s believes in, and at a cost to the individual, stimulated the same brain areas that sex and opiates stimulate.

The core message of Lynn’s work is that “money is a current, a carrier, a conduit for our intentions. Money carries the imprimatur of our soul” (pg. 97). She urges each of us to reflect on our values, then our checkbook. If your checkbook could talk, what would it say about your intentions and values?

Key points from Lynn’s book correlate with core principles from positive psychology research, including (pg. 224):

• What you appreciate appreciates
• When you make a difference with what you have, it expands
• Collaboration creates prosperity
• Access your assets—not only money but also your own character and capabilities, your relationships, and other non-money resources.

I urge you to go get a fix, or experience bliss, this new year by sharing your wealth with someone else. Support and learn more about The Soul of Money Institute here: http://www.soulofmoney.org/about

Buy The Soul of Money, borrow it from the library, or read the whole thing here at Google books.




Dunn, E., Aknin, L.B., Norton, M.I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(21).

Dunn, E. & Norton, M. (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. Simon Shuster. (Added later)

Gilbert, Dan (2007). Stumbling on Happiness. New York: Vintage Books.

Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fonto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(42), 15623–15628.

Schwartz, Barry (2005). The Paradox of Choice. New York: Harper Perennial.

Twist, Lynn (2003). The Soul of Money: transforming your relationship with money and life. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.

Images: money tree, philanthropy

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Senia Maymin 21 December 2008 - 12:46 pm


What a fun article! This is the part I think we positive psychology researchers talk about but don’t always make concrete and explicit – money is important, and here’s how.

I’d never heard of this book before, so it’s really good to hear about how it integrates with what we really believe in positive psychology already. Thank you!


Senia Maymin 21 December 2008 - 1:06 pm

p.s. What a fun money tree picture!!!

Sean Doyle 21 December 2008 - 10:47 pm

How interesting: A professional fundriser writing stories about people’s relationships with money! From the quotes you selected it also sounds like it is beautifully written.

I love the way you tied the book back to the research in positive psychology on the relationship between money and happiness, and our affective forecasting. Thanks for making us aware of this book Denise.


Sean Doyle 21 December 2008 - 10:48 pm

. . . Oh! I almost forgot! I will have to have my teenage son read this as well. He is out burning through his paycheck at this very moment!


Elaine O'Brien 24 December 2008 - 11:37 am

I echo Senia’s and Sean’s comments. What a beautifully written piece and at such a perfect time! Thank you. I will look forward to reading The Soul of Money, and giving more of myself.

Merry Christmas,

Suzie 26 December 2008 - 12:07 pm


Thank you so much for your wonderful review of “The Soul of Money.” I’m intrigued by what you wrote. The book is now definitely at the top of my “must-read” list!

Merry Christmas!



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