Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
It all started when we stopped with the kids to take a look at the new Apple watches. This sparked discussion about how well Apple as a company is doing financially. Surprisingly, this conversation initiated by my son turned from “when can I buy an Apple watch” to “maybe I should invest in Apple instead of buying a watch.” Heady stuff for an 11-year-old. Both my son and daughter were instantly excited about the “big money” they would have months from now if they owned Apple stock.
This presented an unexpected opportunity to start to talk about the ups, downs, and general gamble involved with investing. We discussed how investments compound over time and the risk levels involved with different investments and savings strategies. And just to let you know, this isn’t a typical conversation for us—we aren’t a family that talks about the latest news in the Wall Street Journal around the dinner table.
I remembered having a similar experience around their age. I had a class project in which I bought penny stocks and then tracked my investments in the newspaper. This was exciting—for about a week. Hormones, music, art, and the unfolding drama of middle school and high school quickly overtook my interest. Financial well-being became equated with instant gratification and the accompanying question “what can I buy right now?” This was pretty much my financial worldview through my college years. Well, let’s be real, this is still often my worldview, but the question is a little different now. Instead, the question is “what can I buy right now or put on a credit card?”
But in the present moment, there is a window of opportunity for my children and also for me. For some magical reason, they are receptive to talk about budgets, savings, and even IPOs (they brought this up, not me). Before the window slams shut, I want to continue to point out options they have for saving money as well as a few choices they might want to avoid. I have a limited chance to counter the daily, enticing barrage of temptations to spend money they don’t have. I expect that my kids, like most of us, are going to make some financial missteps along the way, but hopefully I can help them limit the long-term impact these life lessons often have.
This experience reminds me to look at my own financial balance and determine if I am making thoughtful decisions. With two children going to college in just a few years, this is much more pressing. Admittedly, I find the nuances of finances and investment extremely uninteresting. But I do need to know the fundamentals, and a regular financial check-up is in order. Hopefully, if I continue to do a little preventive financial work, I can avoid any major corrections in the future.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Right now, I’m feeling really stressed. How do I know I’m stressed? It’s not just the pressure I can feel in my head that’s building into a headache. Or the chronic tension in my shoulders and back. I see it in my actions. I notice that I am doing more online shopping. Or going to the mall by myself. Or paying more attention to how I look.
I could minimize the significance of these signs by joking with you about retail therapy. Or chalk it up to needing new work clothes or something else for an upcoming trip. But I won’t. If I’m honest, it’s because I have a lot of deadlines looming. And I’m not quite sure if I’m going to meet them all. So it feels just a little bit better to know that my outfit looks just right—my trusted armor that protects me when I feel vulnerable.
My awareness of this doesn’t mean that I can always stop my behavior. My spending has gotten me into trouble before. But I have learned to pay attention to these signs, and I know that I have a choice to do something else to soothe myself. Today, I made the decision to work from home, so I can spend the 2½ hours I would have otherwise spent in my car on the projects that are due. And I can spend a few minutes in mindful meditation. Or I can write—like I’m doing right now.
While none of these activities can take away all of my stress, it relieves the pressure just a little bit. Just enough for me to take a deep breath and shift my perspective. Creating space for me to remember that there aren’t any deadlines that are so important that they should compromise my wellness. And ultimately, it’s not about the deadline or my projects. It’s about the pressure I put on myself to be perfect, which I know is truly unsustainable.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
This week begins open enrollment at the University of Colorado. My husband and I are tasked with reviewing our current choices for health insurance and other benefits. We can either stick with our current plan (offered through my husband’s employer – the Veteran’s Administration), or switch to the one offered by CU. That we have the option of choosing between two comprehensive plans for our family puts us in a uniquely privileged subset of individuals in this country. In fact, one could argue that my husband and I are less in need of high-quality insurance and benefits than many other Americans. Institutions and employers offering healthcare and retirement plans to employees tend to be those that also compensate employees with salaries that render certain healthcare and retirement costs affordable – even in the absence of comprehensive coverage.
At BHWP, one of our guiding principles is that dimensions of wellness are all interrelated. This is particularly evident when considering how financial security influences all other aspects of health and well-being. Poverty is the single biggest predictor of poor physical and mental health – an unsurprising outcome when individuals’ most basic needs are not being met. Less appreciated is that financial strain and insecurity wreak havoc on the physical and mental health of individuals living above the poverty line, but who struggle along the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.
Recently, researchers have begun to appreciate the nuanced ways in which chronic stress during pregnancy and early childhood (often a result of financial hardship) contributes to the transmission of poor health and disease across generations. Financial stress carves multiple pathways to other chronic stressors – family disruption, poor nutrition, housing insecurity and overcrowding, lack of educational opportunities, substance abuse, and racial prejudice to name a few. For infants and children, the implications of such stressors are profound – impaired brain function and emotion regulation, increased psychiatric disorders, sleep deprivation, poor school performance and behavior problems, increased risk for substance abuse, weakened immune system, increased rates of obesity, chronic diseases and cancer, and decreased longevity. (This is the short list!)
Last year, the relief organization Oxfam released a rather extraordinary statistic: The 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the bottom half of the entire global population – some 3.5 billion people. Income inequality and poverty are inextricably linked. Given current health disparities in this country and around the world, acknowledging how the other half lives (literally) cannot be merely a token consideration for the healthcare community. We must prioritize developing effective ways for providers to address the true impacts of chronic stress on the health of low-income patients. No person should view a life of health and well-being for themselves and their families as an unaffordable aspiration.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
If I were famous and being interviewed on TV, I like to imagine that one of the first questions asked would be, “Jamie, how on earth do you maintain your youthful radiance, extraordinary fitness, and irritatingly upbeat attitude, all while trying to pay off your student loan debts and make an honest living?” I would flash a coy smile toward the camera, and say, without hesitation, “Priorities, a good sense of humor, and daily cyclotherapy (bike commuting).”
I know it sounds glib but that would be my “three easy steps to a better life” if I wrote a self-help book. Like it or not, we all have a finite amount of time and money. There will always be things we don’t have and things we don’t have time to do. That’s why life is all about priorities. What’s the thing I most need or want to do today? How should I invest my time and money so that I can get the most out of life?
Since I believe “health is the greatest wealth,” it makes sense for me to invest in myself by prioritizing eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising in ways that make me feel good. As someone that’s ridiculously good at making excuses, it’s important to live within walking distance of a grocery store so there’s never an excuse for not having fresh fruits and veggies on hand, or an excuse to drive instead of walk. I choose not to have a TV, but since Internet streaming has made TV-watching a little too convenient, I limit myself to the handful of shows I enjoy and try to avoid weekend-long binges of screen time. Sure, I’m not perfect – there are lots of days when I choose to spend my free time on mindless entertainment and lounging. It’s perfectly healthy to have other priorities – giving myself days to recover physically and emotionally – as long as I recognize when Internet and junk food are starting to chip away at my health.
Ultimately, I have no idea if I’ll be able to cash out on the time and money I’m hopefully banking by prioritizing health. I could be diagnosed with cancer in my 30’s or get dementia before I’m even old enough to retire. But instead of worrying about things beyond my control, I prioritize my life based on what I can do. I can’t change my DNA, but I CAN control some parts of my genetics by exercising, which tells my body to turn on genes that help regulate blood sugar. I can’t change 18 years of secondhand smoke exposure, but I CAN choose to carefully moderate what substances I put in and on my body. All of this will hopefully lead to a longer, happier, healthier life with less healthcare costs and more money and time to do what I want. It feels good knowing I am investing in myself. As much as I hate clichés, I can’t help but say, “That’s money in the bank!”
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
I have a secret that only few people know about me – I’m an avid budgeter. I keep track of where my money goes down to the $3.65 I spent on a coffee last week. I plan months in advance, telling myself that if I spend just $10 less a week on food, I can save up enough that in two months I can buy that [insert all the things I have ever desired].
I started doing this after college – when bills needed to be paid on time and there were so many more of them. I wanted to be strict with myself and keep track of where all of my money was going so that I never had to utter the words “where is all of my money going?”
But I think a huge part of this budgeting obsession is about shaming myself. If you didn’t spend $100 on kitchen equipment, you could have put $100 in the new car fund! My intentions are in the right place, but I spend too much time obsessing about future-Sara and her prospects than I do about what current-Sara needs and wants.
I’d like to take a step back from my budgeting practices and be more lenient with myself. I’m now in a place in my life that I don’t need to count every penny, and I’d like let myself enjoy that. And instead of thinking every purchase that isn’t highly logical or practical is a waste of money, I want to think of it as an investment in my happiness.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Director of Research
My husband and I have been sweating a bit about finding the right balance between saving for retirement and saving for our children’s college expenses. When we became parents, we were both in our 40s, so we won’t finish paying for our children’s college expenses until a few years before we would like to begin our retirement. Part of me wants to follow the airline attendants’ advice, “secure your own oxygen mask before assisting children, etc.” Another part of me wants to feel that my kids’ financial security is taken care of first. So what if I have to work a couple of extra years before retirement?
I’m wondering when it was that parents started to feel obligated to sock away a small fortune for their children’s college tuition, room-and-board, and sundries. When my husband and I were entering college (OK, yes, that was last century…), the general expectation was that middle-class parents would help out with college expenses to the extent they could, but working part-time, applying for scholarships and grants, and securing low-cost student loans were common expectations for the student’s contribution to the package.
I do realize that the rising costs of an undergraduate education have far outpaced the increase in the availability of grants and scholarships. As a result, student loans are often the more viable option. I have mixed feelings about student loan debt. I certainly wouldn’t take pleasure in seeing my kids burdened with significant debt just as they begin their adult life. Added to the mix (read: guilt) are the frequent news reports on the impact of the ‘student loan crisis’ on [fill in the blank].
On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that having some skin in the game might do wonders for our students’ emotional investment and sense of responsibility related to their education. Behavioral economists and social scientists have no doubt theorized and studied these issues, but it really comes down to making family decisions. I have to trust that our own education and experience will help guide us to find the right balance for our family. In the end, we have to remind ourselves that we are so fortunate to have these options to consider in the first place.
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
The first quarter of the year is, financially speaking, the worst for many people. Each New Year begins with a solid economic hangover from all the dinners out with friends and family and the gift-buying from the end of the previous year’s holidays. New Year’s resolutions to get on firm financial footing are expired and usually forgotten by mid-February. By then, tax season is looming ahead. When May rolls around, things are starting to look up again. Taxes are filed, maybe there’s a tiny windfall in the form of a refund check and the warming weather calls us out into our communities.
Several recent studies suggest that spending leisure dollars on experiences instead of things is the best investment for our well-being. The flashy gadgets that fill fashion magazines are fine for what they are, but they are a lousy source of happiness. That is, objects do make us happy—briefly. But once they’re ours, once the newness wears off, it’s just a thing we have, and its ability to cause new happiness is exhausted. Depending on what it is, that thing might actually become a source of new stress. Perhaps it requires maintenance; maybe it gets old and breaks.
Experiences provide a fantastic bang for the buck. The anticipation of an upcoming experience is a cause for happiness. I’ve been looking forward to seeing a play I bought tickets to as a birthday present for a friend nearly a year ago. The experience itself is fun and often comes with a social component that reinvigorates our spirit. The memory of the experience lasts a long time and becomes an indelible piece of our identity.
Taking a walk, visiting a museum, attending an outdoor concert, arranging a scavenger hunt for friends and so many more things can be done with little or no spending, allowing us to save our precious dollars for unanticipated needs down the road.
So have fun. Make fun. It costs less and means more.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training, consultation, and program evaluation to organizations, administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Training Programs and Workshops
We provide comprehensive training and education for administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists to build awareness and knowledge, enhance motivation, facilitate wellness groups, and create positive social networks. Training participants learn to facilitate their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer, and sustain effective wellness interventions. We developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness for the general population as well as many at-risk priority populations. Programs include:
DIMENSIONS: Peer Specialist Program – Core and specialized skills for peer specialists
DIMENSIONS: Tobacco Free Program – Tobacco cessation and tobacco-free policy
DIMENSIONS: Well Body Program – Physical health and well-being
DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being for Physicians – Interventions and strategies for promoting physician wellness
Motivational Interventions for Behavior Change – Increasing motivation to change
Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification Program – ATTUD-accredited TTS certification program
We assist organizations and their employees to create, implement, and maintain wellness programming. We offer education regarding the importance of maintaining overall wellness and evidence-based strategies for improving individual and workplace well-being. We provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations to support implementation of pragmatic and case-specific wellness solutions.
Program Evaluation and Technical Assistance
We provide consultation and technical assistance to organizations across the nation. We work with organizations to help them evaluate their current programming, define new goals, and implement effective wellness solutions. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through our ongoing, creative partnerships.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations, and government agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation on topics such as tobacco-free policy and workplace wellness initiatives.
We develop evidence-based materials to assist those working in health-related fields. Our resources focus on information about health behavior change, health risks of certain behaviors, enhancing motivation to change, and strategies and solutions to support movement through the change process. We develop resources for the general population as well as for priority populations who face health disparities or have specialized healthcare needs, including behavioral health conditions, criminal justice involvement, low-income populations, youth, and pregnant/postpartum women, among others.