How wealth can also impoverish

My friend Tom (aka., “The Blogfodder”) has been at it again.

Today he sent me a treasure trove of great reads—including some good advice, should I decide to become a busker: “If you can’t be original, be good.” (I couldn’t help but think of my pal Rudy McLeod, who is both original and good.)

I also enjoyed the brief article about Duff McKagan, the Guns n’ Roses bassist-turned-financial-advisor. I can hardly wait until he releases his next big hit, “Sweet Beneficiary of Mine.”

But the Utne Reader piece about rich people made me stop and really think.

I live in a culture that idolizes wealth. And when you’re surrounded by the myth that money can buy anything, it’s easy to confuse prosperity with happiness.

So I was intrigued today to read that wealthy people aren’t any happier than the rest of us. In fact, they may actually be less happy. Why? Because they lack “… the delusion that next year’s raise or winning lottery ticket just might buy [them] greater joy.”

Delusional or not, hope—for a brighter future, greater joy, the possibility that life may just get better—is critical to the human psyche.

Thanks to Paul Schervish and his Study on Wealth and Philanthropy, perhaps we’re beginning to glimpse that wealth can buy things—but that it can also impoverish.


  1. I liked what your blog had to say – especially about being richer and not happier. I like the philosopher, Epicurus, because he says much the same thing. He suggests that we reach a certain level of happiness and then it levels out. I haven’t put it very well but you might like to have a read of Epicuris – he puts it a lot better than I do!


    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Lorraine. I’ll have to look into Epicurus’ theory, which I’d never heard of before. I’ve also heard modern psychologists theorize that humans have an innate happiness “setpoint.” It varies by individual and remains pretty steady in spite of brief increases or decreases based on life events. But there’s nothing like asking people straight-out if they’re happy, and that’s why I found the survey of the ultra-rich so intriguing. Anyway, thanks so much for reading, and g’day to you!

    • There’s a lot to be said for being happy with our lives, just the way they are, eh? Other people may have more money, but at least you and I spend it on really interesting stuff. Like travel and camera equipment. 🙂

    • As usual, you make an excellent point! The trick is to not become so comfortable that one misses the ride entirely, I guess. Grin.

  2. This is kind of reassuring, isn’t it? I mean, it would be just be too unfair if the super-rich were also super-happy. It’s love that makes you happy, and lack of love that brings miseries in its wake, from loneliness to rioting in the streets. So I suppose that you can be happy on any income – although, as Hallysann wryly points out, a certain level of financial security is a huge help. 😉

    • It would indeed be unfair if the super-rich were also super-happy! It’s reassuring to know that probably no one’s life is perfect in every way, isn’t it? The trick, I think, lies in being thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we don’t.

  3. Bah I feel your frustration here. Being immersed in the corporate world I see this everyday have to fight to keep from becoming part of it. It always seems like the more you make the more you want, even when you know how lucky you are to have what you do to begin with.

    In studying biz we learned all about the GINI index or income inequality. Most Americans would be pretty surprised to see where we stack up, especially compared to the other “developed” countries. **HINT** We may or may not be barely beating Rwanada while coming in slightly behing Cameroon…

    • It’s so true that the more you make, the more you want (and spend!). And you’re so right in pointing out that most of us in the U.S. have *no idea* how fortunate we are. When my family moved here from Peru, my mom broke down a little bit in the grocery store because there was an entire aisle of bread and she didn’t know which to choose. Up until then, there had been only one or two choices — if there was bread at all.

    • You mean Ramada? 🙂

      I’ve done waaay worse with my #%* tiny keyboard. (Need a laugh? See

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