But the recent (and impossible to avoid) news about Kim Kardashian’s failed marriage had me wondering about the opposite side of the wealth/happiness coin.
Is it possible that being fabulously wealthy can make you less happy?
I’m not saying I necessarily believe in the “Poor Little Rich Girl” phenomenon. But I do think having so much wealth that you are insulated from some of the things that the 99% take for granted might cheat you of some real joys in life. Here are some things that millionaires and billionaires are missing by being rich:
1. Saving up to buy something. I remember reading about a shopping trip Michael Jackson took about 10 years ago, when he shut down the store for himself and his entourage and simply pointed to things that he wanted. He left with tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. But did he really get any joy or satisfaction from that stuff?
We all like instant gratification, and saving up money to buy a coveted item can be a drag. But when you have accomplished your savings goal and can buy your new favorite toy, there is no better feeling in the world. The sense of accomplishment you feel in having reached that savings goal transfers itself to your purchase, and you’re very satisfied with it. It’s more than just a material item—it represents a goal accomplished. Being able to buy anything you want anytime you want it would rob you of that.
2. Friendships. Money has a way of eroding relationships. Any lottery winner can tell you about how “friends” come out of the woodwork hoping to get a piece of the wealth. While the very wealthy certainly can and do have great relationships with friends and family, the suspicion that a new friend might not really be interested in you rather than your wealth would be something that could make new relationships difficult.
Social scientists agree that the happiest individuals are those with strong social ties. Those of us living on an average income do not have a niggling concern about why friends like us, and that helps us to feel more comfortable in our happiness-generating relationships.
3. Sticking with your choices. I went to college with a young man from a fabulously wealthy family. His parents were able to give him a new car every other year, a $20,000 per year allowance, and any opportunity his heart desired. And yet he struggled. Each year—and sometimes each month—he had a different idea of what he wanted to do with his life. But since he had such a vast safety net, he never had to stick with any of these decisions.
No path is without setbacks, turmoil, doubts, and dark days. But if your wealth means that you don’t have to stick with a particular path or choice, then it would be very easy to back out of something you’ve tried just because you hit a speed bump. (The aforementioned Kim K comes to mind here). It’s much more fulfilling to commit to a goal or life path despite the tough going. Yes, some choices are wrong and sometimes you need a do-over. But if you never see any particular choice through to the end, how will you know if you’re really making the wrong choice or if things have just gotten a little bumpy?
Of course, I’m not saying I would turn down a million dollars if it were offered to me. Nor will I stop working to better my finances. But it’s good to recognize that my current station in life has some nice benefits, too.