Ask Chuck: A Case for Economic Optimism

A column by Chuck Bentley, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I have lost $300,000 in my 401k in the past 12 months, and things appear to be getting worse. I plan to retire in 5 years. Should I get my money out of the market or try to ride out the economic storms? 


This question came just last week from someone I met at the airport while travelling to California. I tried to quickly summarize my view: “All other important investment factors being equal, I believe it is generally good to be optimistic and weather the storms.” She looked at me with shock because I think her mind was already made up that she wanted to cash out.

I replied that I believe that “time in the market is far more important than timing the market.” Since you may be asking the same question she asked me in a fleeting moment, I decided to make a case for remaining optimistic when it comes to managing your investments. 

Is the glass half full or half empty? 

I recently read The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness by Morgan Housel. A partner at The Collaborative Fund (a network of fund managers), Housel believes that doing well with money has a lot to do with how we behave. His insight on the seduction of pessimism is excellent:

“Pessimism isn’t just more common than optimism. It also sounds smarter. It’s intellectually captivating, and it’s paid more attention than optimism, which is often viewed as being oblivious to risk ... Optimism is a belief that the odds of a good outcome are in your favor over time, even when there will be setbacks along the way ... It’s easier to create a narrative around pessimism because the story pieces tend to be fresher and more recent. Optimistic narratives require looking at a long stretch of history and developments, which people tend to forget and take more effort to piece together ... The short sting of pessimism prevails while the powerful pull of optimism goes unnoticed ... In investing you must identify the price of success — volatility and loss amid the long backdrop of growth — and be willing to pay it.”

There’s proof on the side of optimism. In 2019, Michelle Gielan wrote “The Financial Upside of Being an Optimist” for The Harvard Business Review. She conducted a study in partnership with Frost Bank, and after surveying more than 2,000 Americans, she found that when it comes to money, optimists were more likely to make smart moves and reap the benefits. In addition, optimists make more money over their careers and are more likely to be promoted. Here is an excerpt followed by some findings:

“After controlling for wealth, income, skills, and other demographics to level the playing field, the data clearly showed that optimists were significantly more likely to experience better financial health than pessimists and engage in healthier habits with their money. For instance, we found that 90% of optimists have put money aside for a major purchase, compared to 70% of pessimists. Nearly two-thirds of optimists have started an emergency fund, while less than half of pessimists have. Additionally, optimists are more likely to seek out and follow advice from someone they trust. In my opinion, the most compelling finding was how optimists felt, reporting that they stressed about finances 145 fewer days each year as compared to pessimists.” 

  • Optimists are seven times more likely to have better financial health than pessimists.  
  • Nearly 60% of optimists seek out financial advice compared to 42% of pessimists.
  • Approximately 43% of optimists say they are very interested in learning more about money compared to 33% of pessimists. 
  • Nearly 70% of optimists changed their financial habits after a setback, while only 36% of pessimists did. 
  • 90% of optimists say they saved for a major purchase, compared to 70% of pessimists. 

How to become more optimistic about money

  • Learn what God says about finances and recognize Him as the Owner of everything. 
  • Set specific goals and analyze them regularly.
  • Make a plan to achieve them. 
  • Give first; save second.
  • Spend less than you earn. 
  • Establish an emergency fund.
  • Reduce and avoid consumer debt. 
  • Invest wisely, diversify, and allow time to take its course. 
  • Seek wise counsel and stop comparing your lifestyle to that of others.
  • Learn to be content.

Biblical optimism

We, who are believers in Christ, can be optimistic because of the character of God. We can place full confidence in Him, regardless of our circumstances. We do our part in stewarding the resources He provides, and we trust Him to do His part, which is to work all things for our good. 

“And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28 ESV

Nobody knows if the market will go up or down over a 5-year period or a 24-hour period — whether there will be a market boom or a market bust. However, we know that optimism is good for us and those around us, regardless of whether the outcome we hoped for is achieved. 

While trusting God in challenging times, remember to practice the following to develop a more optimistic worldview:

  • Read the Word.
  • Take every thought captive.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Number your days.
  • Limit exposure to the news and social media.
  • Befriend optimists. 
  • For every pessimistic thought, find an optimistic one.  
  • Eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise, and spend time in nature. 


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