Cash Money: It's a Good Thing

Prize money
Cash means confidence.

Like most of you, I really like money. Oh, not just the stuff in a bank or an investment fund or tied up in a mortgage. The real stuff, the paper.

I love the feel of it with its slightly raised surfaces rich with ink, embossed with faces, slogans, monuments to greatness past and imagined. I love its smell; I love the texture of the stacked edges laid side by side.

I love the sound of counting out stacks of hundreds each slipping off the other with a gentle swish. I’m a guy. I’m a gambler. I’m a poker player and a horse junkie.

When I was young, a mere slip of a kid, a pretender in these games I kept my money in my wallet, tucked into the back pocket of my jeans where its bulk made the obligatory ring on the leather surface (hey, you never know….).

Then I learned. Real men don’t use wallets; they fold their bills. No ostentatious money clips, no bejeweled snap-shut baubles; just an elastic band to hold my stash, wrapped twice about the wad thick with importance and shoved into my left front pocket where I could run my finger tips along its edges as I walked.

My elastic-wrapped talisman. It is always with me.

My wife says, as we head into the supermarket, “Do you have money for the groceries?”

“I do,” I smile, for I do. I always do. It is my amulet, my wad, my bullet proof shield and it has, almost always, a couple of thou’ (hey, you never know….).

Lacey Jones
Everbody likes money.

It is the first thing that gets shifted into the new left hand pocket of my clean jeans for I am naked without it, insecure without it. If I get broke in a big game I go get more for I am fragile and weak and feel less a man without it.

I’ve been this way with money for so long that it has begun to bother me. It felt like a drug. Like I was hooked. On slow, cold evenings I would take out my roll and count it, slowly and lovingly. And I would feel better about life.

Why should this be? The money in my pocket is actually a pittance. It’s nowhere near what’s in my bank, my pension funds, my portfolio, my house, my car. I don’t get out my bank book and rub it or flip through its pages. I’ve never had any desire to pull out my stock holding summary sheets and rub them against my cheeks.

Why the folding stuff? It’s really weird and forty-plus years of studying the human condition has taught me that when these kinds of anomalies pop up, something’s going on. But what?

Then I ran across an article in the journal Psychological Science and I smiled. It turns out that not only is my fascination with wads of hundred dollar bills fairly common, it has a straightforward, though somewhat surprising basis to it.

Money, indeed, acts like and has many of the properties of an addictive drug.

Xinyue Zhou at Sun Yat Sen University in China and Kathleen Vohs at the University of Minnesota and her colleagues (if you’re curious, check out Vohs extensive and fascinating research here) have discovered some rather amazing facts about money, especially paper money.

We know that rejection and physical pain are unpleasant. Zhou and company found that the simple act of handling money reduces both physical pain and the psychological distress of rejection. And it isn’t just the act of handling paper with similar shape and feel. The effects are dependent on it being real bills.

Professional poker player Roy Brindley, in his book Life’s a Gamble, goes on lovingly about the “cash in the pocket” life style. I thought it a bit odd at the time but now it makes sense.

Zhou and colleagues also found that having money in your pocket increases confidence and improves mood. Even more remarkable, these effects have symbolic features. Simply being reminded of money spent or money lost increases psychological distress and imaging oneself having money reduces social anxieties.

The message for poker players? Simple. Carry cash. Carry it in rolls that are easily touched and can serve as reminders of its presence.

If you go bust, go get more cash. Fat rolls are best. If you’re short on hundreds, get a bunch of tens or fives. Fold them over in a wad, wrap an elastic band around them and, when you get the chance, sit down and count them, smell them, let the loose symbolic taste of money penetrate your brain.

It is a drug. It is stimulating the release of endorphins, of dopamine. Your nucleus accumbens is dazzling with activity.

And you will feel more confident. Your game will improve and you will win more money and need a bigger elastic band.

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