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Stress and Money

This past week Newsweek had a series of articles related to stress and how different people cope. Given the latest economic climate it is easy to see how many of us could feel stressed out and overwhelmed by the situations we find ourselves in. The most interesting article was written by Ben Sherwood who followed the work of Dr. Andy Morgan from the Yale Medical School. Morgan went to Fort Bragg to study the Army’s elite Airborne. He measured different factors to see if he could determine who would be successful and who wouldn’t.

Interestingly, he found that those who managed their stress better tended to graduate higher in their class as well as complete their given programs. However, it wasn’t quite as simple as you might think. He actually found that the elite soldiers were completely wired differently. These soldiers gave off more NPY ( Neuropeptide Y) in their bodies. This chemical helps to regulate blood pressure, appetite, learning and memory.

In one test would be soldiers are tied with their hands behind their back and legs together. They are then thrown in a pool. Those with higher levels of NPY tend to do better. Instead of fighting the water they tended to remain calm, fall to the bottom and then push off the bottom for air.

What I find interesting about the results of the study is that managing stress for the rest of us can actually be more difficult and we may have to take active steps to calm ourselves to reduce stress and make correct decisions. Most of us know that emotions can get in the way of making proper financial decisions. Emotions make us sell assets when we are scared instead of holding on for better market conditions. They make us buy snake oil that won’t really help us.

Sherwood has created a website called thesurvivorsclub.org for the rest of us to learn how survivors are different and how we can try to emulate them.

The cost of children

The costs start before birth, in extra doctor’s visits (and anti-emetics) for the mom-to-be. They spike during the hospital stay and remain high through the diaper-and-baby-food stages, the ever-larger clothing, the field trip money, and eventually college. Kids are expensive; the cost of a child born this year and raised in the Midwest: $183,510, not including college, according to this calculator. And they give an extremely poor interest rate. Financially speaking, having children makes no sense. So why do people do it?

Common wisdom is that children make you happy. But psychological research indicates that’s not true; as described in this Newsweek article, childless couples have the same amount of emotional wellbeing as people with children and tend to be more satisfied with their marriages. Children offer companionship, but so do spouses and pets. Children, in fact, seem to come with no other rewards and some serious drawbacks: the sacrifice of time and self-identity, the additional responsibility, and especially the pricetag.

With that said, however, most people have or plan to have children, even though they can’t specifically say way. This Plain Dealer article describes the attempts of semester after semester of college students to figure out why people should want to have children. They fail. But chances are, most of them went on to have children. I plan to have children, even though I know my life would in some ways be richer (literally and metaphorically) without them. Why?

Since there’s no rational reason to have children, the answer lies in the irrational: in our biological roots. It’s likely that having children is an instinct buried so deep that we don’t recognize it as an instinct, the way we automatically look toward sharp movement or loud noises, but we obey it anyway. Part of the definition of natural selection is that traits that enhance an organism’s chance of passing on its genes tend to spread in a population. What trait would enhance those chances more than the tendency to want to have children? By definition, a species that didn’t have urges towards procreation would shortly be wiped out. Humans have spread out over the globe not just because of our tools and our intelligence, but also because of our population.

It is a fact that the best decision, financially speaking, is not to have children. But that’s not what most of us will do. And that’s a good thing. It’s healthy for us to want things other than riches, healthy to know that there are important things in life other than money.