Being rich

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.

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0 thoughts about “Being rich
  • Colin,

    Your aircraft delay analogy reminds me of an experience from about 5 years ago. I was sitting (as a passenger) in a $120,000 sports car with a driver whose worth was well into 7 figures. We were on California’s (and maybe America’s) most congested freeway – I405, also known as “America’s Parking Lot”.

    The driver was getting all agitated about the lost time and how he had better things to do. I commented to him that “even Steven Spielberg, who probably has 100x more money than you, has to sit in traffic like anyone else.” (Spielberg lived in the same area as this guy).

    Also, though it’s sad, take the current health of Steve Jobs. Jobs never struck me as a man pursuing the almighty dollar anyway. Yet in spite of all his wealth, I’m sure he’d trade it all away for one more year with his family. Cliche as it is, “there are some things money can’t buy.”

    • Good story Dan. Your point about Steve Jobs is well made. I may not be anything like as wealthy as him, but I’d willingly give up all I have to fix a few things in my life, but they are things that money won’t help with.

  • Colin,
    What you say about riches is very true. It is a very relative term. If you asked someone who was making $25K per year what it would take for you to feel rich they might reply with $75K to $100K.
    When you ask the bloke making 100k$ he will $250K, and so on. The fact of the matter is that if we have a roof over our head and something to eat we are richer that most of the world. We all need to keep that in perspective. Thanks for your thoughts on the topic.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2011/09/01/being-rich/