Following up on the previous post about properly aligning life’s priorities away from the material, I came across a great article today about the preliminary results of a broad survey of very wealthy Americans, Secret Fears of the Super Rich.
It’s well worth a read, but here’s the money shot I think:
“Freud was right,” Kenny concludes. “Love and work are the two things you have to do in life.” And great wealth, he says, often undermines both.
The bottom line is that wealth isolates people from the things that really matter. They are unable to have a rewarding career among the ‘common people’, and unable to have good relationships with those whose problems they can no longer relate. The result is huge anxiety from those you would think would be the most likely to sit back and relax.
This isn’t what we want to hear. In fact, I think it’s a threat to the way everything works in this country. Our culture is largely based around the idea that you too can be rich if you’re smart enough, work hard enough, or are cute enough to marry into money. It’s the primary carrot for work and social advancement – do this, get payed that, and use that pay to get stuff. And if you have stuff, you’ve advanced against your neighbor and are ‘winning’. If you listen to rap or hip hop at all, it’s completely exposed and bare as the end-all accomplishment that you should aspire to. Lexus, Benz or Bentley?
But if you ask those who are rich if the experience lives up to the hype, it apparently does not. I’m by no means super rich, but I do pretty well for myself, and I can see this in my life as well. Am I twice as happy now as I was a few years ago when I made half of what I do today? No.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a divorce lawyer at a business club. She was telling me about a case she had been working on, representing a woman who told her that she needed at least $40,000 a month, or she’d be living under a bridge (paraphrasing). It blows my mind how screwed up that is. If that’s what excessive money does to your brain, do you really want it?
This just seems like further validation that what we find rewarding in life is not the stuff. Beyond a certain point in fact, it’s detrimental. There’s a balance we must find that weighs career and monetary success with relationships and doing things we enjoy. As always, finding that balance is the real challenge.