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Pattie Lovett-Reid

Chief Financial Commentator, CTV


Have you ever asked yourself, “What makes me happy?” That is the subject of one of the most popular courses at Harvard University, taught by Tal Ben-Shahar and based on his book “Happier”.

Monday Jan. 15 is Blue Monday and it’s considered to be the most depressing day of the year. Originally coined by a travel agency to encourage people to travel, the term has also become a focal point for the financial services industry that marks when holiday bills roll in.

According to a recent poll by CIBC, for the past eight years the No. 1 financial goal for Canadians is to pay down debt. Many are literally spending themselves into the poor house. They know it, they want to address it and year after year, they have good intentions of tackling it. But sadly, many remain unsuccessful.

Before we begin to tackle debt, I believe we need to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves why we’re increasing debt levels instead of attempting to pay it off.

Material wealth has become the holy grail for so many. While financial security can liberate us from work that doesn’t feel meaningful ,or concerns about when the next paycheque will arrive, “it is not the money that is valuable but the fact it can potentially yield more positive experiences,” Tal Ben-Sharhar writes in “Happier”.

There are countless stories of highly successful people who thought once they "made it" they would be happy – only to find themselves depressed and in some cases turning to drugs and alcohol.

We have also seen financial and emotional bankruptcy affecting those trying to satisfy a "want" with money they don't have and the never-ending spiral of borrowing from one credit card to pay off another.

It becomes exhausting and once again a goal unfulfilled.

If you are looking to take control of your financial life and pay off debt, here are some of the most common debt reduction blunders that may be holding you back:

  1. Focusing on what you can’t do and don’t have. Sometimes you need to stand back and say enough is enough. I don’t need more stuff -- I need more time and I need more experiences. It is all in how you define a “rich life”.
  2. Adopting an all-or-nothing mentality. Just because you focus on reducing debt doesn’t mean you don’t get to spend some money. It is the mindless spending you want to eliminate.
  3. Establish small goals, write them down and be realistic. You want goals that are not only attainable but sustainable.
  4. Steering clear of debt altogether isn’t always a good thing. For example, you may decide to borrow to invest to maximize your RRSP contribution. Doing so can help to improve your long-term position. An all or nothing mentality rarely works.
  5. Relying on a quick fix. Slow and steady wins the race. You likely didn’t get into debt overnight and the odds are you won’t get out of debt overnight. If it was easy to then none of us would have this as our top New Year’s Resolution.

Those are just a few tips to help you pay down debt in 2018, but Ben-Shahar’s words also offer insight into money and happiness: “When you learn how to live for today and for tomorrow at the same time, you learn how to balance your immediate personal needs with long-term goals and enjoy life as you never have before.”