The Problem with Being Fabulously Wealthy

Kim Kardashian Credit Card

They seem happy.

The link between wealth and happiness has been covered many times, from ancient proverbs to modern science.

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.

Last Edited: December 8, 2011 @ 12:19 pmThe content of ptmoney.com is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to ptmoney.com should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.
About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher and respected personal finance blogger. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her engineer husband and two high-energy little boys. She has written two books: The Five Years Before You Retire and Choose Your Retirement. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.

Comments

  1. I find money or wealth has a negative effect on the children. That is if the parents do not raise the children well. I went to school with very rich people, some handled money better than others and few will ever accomplish much because they were given so much.

  2. I think the ability to escape be it financial / legal problems or physically be able to disappear on some private island must be pretty nice.

  3. Kevin Mzansi says:

    Being fabulously wealthy certainly comes with it’s own set of problems. That being said, I would sure like to experience them myself one day!

  4. Teresa Deckert Taylor says:

    I know I am! oh wait…

  5. ‘@CPwrFCU I know I am

  6. I enjoy not being very wealthy. I sincerely believe that Mo Money equals Mo Problems. I have enough problems to deal with, without having so called “friends” taking advantage of my wealth. Being rich does pose a lot of these drawbacks mentioned here, as well as added responsibility.

    I personally love saving up for particular goals, accomplishing them, and then enjoying them to the fullest. I wouldn’t get near the satisfaction of buying items if I didn’t do it this way.

  7. David Ruetten says:

    Nonsense. More money = more comfort to pay bills = more happiness.

  8. MyMoneyDesign.com says:

    The problem with anything (such as wealth) that is just handed to you is that it builds no character. To really want something, you need to struggle through the challenges and work harder than you ever could have imagined. To do so exercises your brain and develops one of the rarest abilities out there – creativity. Just like with your college friend (not Kim K) you mentioned in number (3), I too have known people who never settled on a major, a job, a spouse – all because it’s hard! Part of my own desire with exploring personal finance alternatives is not just the wealth that it builds, but the satisfaction in knowing that the results it creates may be attributed to my own ambitions.

  9. We all have our trials to deal with in life. That being the case I am very glad that I have a bit more financial security in my life so I can deal with mine.