A few days ago, I was wandering around a large, posh department store. I figured out that, to calculate the likely price of something, it was necessary to think of a sensible price and multiply by 2 and add some. This made me wonder about who the customers were and concluded that they must be “rich people”. I am sure that most people, if asked, would say that they would like to be rich. I think that many of us do not really think about what “rich” means and certainly do not consider the unintended consequences of attaining wealth.
The idea of being rich is very strong in western culture. TV shows and movies constantly portray the lives of the “rich and famous”. People often talk about “get rich quick” schemes – usually in pejorative terms, as getting money quickly is seen as wrong. It is OK to earn/acquire it at a steady rate or to be born with it, but getting money quickly is less acceptable. I certainly learned that a little while ago …
I am not rich. Well, at least I do not see myself as being wealthy. But, through the eyes of someone who is unemployed and living on benefits, maybe my comfortable lifestyle does look like riches. Down the line, the life of an unemployed person in the UK would seem like one of amazing luxury to many under-nourished people in the Third World. I think of rich people as being folks with bigger/more houses than me and/or flashier cars and/or smart clothes etc. You get the idea. There is no such thing as “rich” in the absolute. Just about everyone is rich, compared with someone else.
I used to think that to become rich would the need the arrival of a life-changing sum of money. And I think that most people would actually admit to being rich if they received such a hand out. However, the size of such a windfall varies. For me, a couple of million would do the job. For some, maybe an 8 or 9 figure sum is needed; for others a 5 or 6 figure amount would suffice.
I am not a gambler. I am not against it [even though I was very shocked by seeing the effects of gambling on people in Las Vegas a few years ago] – it just does not interest me much. I certainly do not buy lottery tickets, as I know how incredibly unlikely I would be to win. However, a while ago I knew somebody who did. This woman won around $100m. Very nice for her and for many others, as she announced that she would use a lot of it to help the less fortunate. She bought a new house and gave her old one to her cleaner, complete with the car in the driveway. For me, her winning was inconvenient, as she was the real estate agent trying to sell my house. For some reason she lost interest in that endeavor.
It is very common to hear about the downsides of having money. We hear the saying “money cannot buy happiness”, to which I would counter that, under those circumstances, I might accept suffering in comfort. However, I have proof that being rich is bad for you. Having a lot of money is stressful. In a simple way, the more stuff you have, the more you have to worry [be stressed] about. That can be mitigated, of course. For example, I guess that Bill Gates does not worry about plumbing malfunctions in his palatial home; I am sure he has a man to deal with stuff like that.
The big problem is the power that comes with money. One of the great benefits of being rich is that you have choices and can take control of your life in many ways. A poor person may just have to make do with their lot. The trouble for rich people is when they bump into something beyond their control. Have you noticed that, when an announcement is made on an aircraft about a delay, the big groan comes from up front? Normal people, like you and I, are used to having things just happen to us, we do not expect to be in control of much of our lives. But rich people do. So, when uncontrollable things [flight delays, traffic jams, illness, weather …] impact them, they are correspondingly more stressed.
Does that make you feel better about not being rich?
BTW, there is another reason why I do not buy lottery tickets. I read that, if a healthy 30-year old man walks half a mile to a shop to buy a lottery ticket, it is five times more likely that he will drop dead on the way than he will win the jackpot. I am well over 30, so clearly buying lottery tickets is far too dangerous.