Wealth is one of the fundamental descriptors of a person’s status in life. It’s among the first things we see when we look at a stranger. We devote a lot of time and energy to it—in some cases more than anything else. Even in our traditional wedding vows, “for richer or poorer” is a powerful part of the promises we say to each other. It’s that important.
But the actual relationship wealth has with our general satisfaction in life is a little hard to pin down. I saw one study that followed 21 self-made billionaires over a period of 6 years, which basically found two things. First, that wealth doesn’t change a person’s personality so much as magnify it. Whatever traits someone had before becoming wealthy tended to become more extreme, for better or worse.
The second thing the study found was that wealth, simply put, presented these people with choices. For some, this was a very positive thing, but others couldn’t handle it. They were overwhelmed by the ability to—for example—buy pretty much anything they wanted and developed bad habits that ended up ruining them. If you’ve heard of the curse of the lottery, this was much the same thing.
I’ve seen other studies conclude that although money won’t make you happy, the lack of money can make you sad. I’ve heard a few versions of this one, basically what it comes down to is that once you reach the point where you don’t worry about money from day to day, you’ve reached the highest point that money can take you. Remember that, I’ll come back to it later.
One 2017 study reported by CNN even found that lower-income people tended to have greater overall contentment and peace, owing to a greater focus on relationships over career and finances. Ancient manuscripts seem to lend some credence to this, going so far as to call the love of money “the root of all evil.” Notice, that’s love of money, not the money itself. I believe that’s because love is for people. You can’t have a relationship with money, after all. Or, as the Beatles put it: money can’t buy me love.
Today, though, I want to offer some of my personal career experience with this issue, rather than just discussing studies. In my many years of counseling and therapy, I’ve had the opportunity to work with quite a few extremely wealthy people, some of whom are famous as well. One thing I’ve noticed is that they are typically far more afraid than the average person. Afraid of losing their wealth or fame. Afraid that their singing voice will give out, or that their next album will bomb (I live in Nashville, we have a lot of musicians).
Even though these people have more than most could dream, they worry more than most people of only average means. I said earlier that money doesn’t make you happy once you pass the point of not needing to worry about it. I would now suggest a corollary to that: money that creates worry will only make you more stressed and prevent you from finding peace.
But I did work with a few people who didn’t seem to have that problem, who managed to be grounded and content in spite of their fabulous wealth. Naturally, I wanted to know how they did it, and what was really interesting was that every one of them told me the same thing. They said, “I don’t care about the money.” For them, it was all about the work they did, whatever that was, simply because they loved doing it. There was no room for worry because the work and the reward were always present for them. It didn’t come from past or future success. It came new every day, from doing what they loved.
Let’s take one more look at that saying, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and ask ourselves a simple question. What does it mean to love something? I would say it means you live for it, at least in part, every day. You think of it often, you perform acts of service toward it out of habit. Furthermore, I would say it is absolutely crucial that love is a choice made new every day. It takes work to maintain it.
I think one of the best things to take away from this subject is to look at your own life, your own career, through this lens and ask yourself what you really love. Is it money? Success? Fame? Or is it the work itself that brings you joy?
Have a blessed, wonderful day!