Shekhar Raj Dhain, November 09, 2010
Recently i read a news headline via twitter that actually managed to shock me. Not because the content was so unlike anything I´d ever seen before, but more that it adhered to something I still find so needless and tragic. It concerned a man who´d won the national lottery in the UK.
In a nutshell, this guy had won £9 million pounds, and within five years it was believed he´d spent the lot in a mixture of the usual suspects; gifts, bad business deals, dream cars and holidays, etc. As it transpired, this wasn´t strictly true. Apparently at the time of death, he still had nearly £800,000 or thereabouts in bank accounts. It was stated that within two years winning the aforementioned fortune, spending robustly and then divorcing his wife of 27 years , he drank himself to death in boredom. It was also concluded that the money «ruined and killed him».
The whole thing is not only shocking, but really sad. Here was a relatively ordinary working man who obviously wanted and entertained the dream of being able to retire on a huge gamble win, earlier than most people. It wasn´t as if he´d stolen it, or misappropriated it all from another person or company in some shady deal. But something still caused him to self destruct.
Maybe it was just the grief of his marriage falling apart, quickly into the ´dream lifestyle´ moment. However, this WAS NOT alluded to in any of the articles I read, so it´s unlikely. In any case, it was food for thought. To wit, why do so many people who acquire sizeable amounts of wealth, tend to self destruct at varying levels?
Im not just referring to lottery winners, although historically it´s probably easier to think of those. Especially in the U.K., where the national lottery is just over 15 years old. There was a time that a lot of the aforementioned kind of story would make headline material. Thankfully, a combination of a lot of people not wanting to disclose their winner status´ publicly and the media en mass having other vast pools of info & knowledge to dip into for fresher stories, has meant it doesn´t get reported as often.
I´m also, therefore, referring to the traditional ( if that´s the right word), hard-working businessperson, who has an amazing quarter/year/decade etc, and then starts to be reported as becoming more belligerent, absurd, obsessional, weird, and even dangerous, as their (reported) financial worth shoots into the stratosphere . The list can also be extended to actors, producers, directors and other mega media types too, where the sums per project and R.O.I due to production credit/share opportunities, equates to making the equivalent of a small country´s GDP on just a few projects, per year.
But at what point does financial reward become a licence to tip over into not-quite-normal (whatever that means), behaviour? Some might say it´s when you´ve acquired enough wealth to print your own money, so you´ve then also earned the right to patent your own brand of lunacy. But a lottery winner, at best, would only be able to afford a really obscure clump of uninhabited land somewhere, with NO populace other than themselves, and maybe a few willing and able friends. So the more important question is, WHY does it happen?
It´s more likely to be a combination of factors and events, such as geographic location, emotional make up, and close peers, family and other influential figures that facilitate this scenario. Having travelled to various parts of the globe, and taken the time to socialise with the locals, I tend to notice people´s attitude to their own microcosm within the macrocosm of the country they´re in, which can sit above or below some metaphorical graph of the known paradigms that the same place is portrayed as, to the rest of the world. In America, for example, there appears to be less of a sweet and sour reaction to the concept of becoming rich, which looked at from the macro perspective, may be due to the ethos ingrained by the education system, ancestral values, and the government´s overall stance on state support /benefits. Compare and contrast that to the UK, and it´s a visible, almost overtly tangible contrast.
Other than aristocracy, and those born into significant wealth, most people´s attitudes to money are indeed, quite sweet and sour in the UK. On the one hand, we all enjoy the benefits of money, because rightly or wrongly, we believe we´re entitled to it in the form of reward / compensation for providing a good or service. In effect, it´s the opportunity cost that we are being compensated for, in lieu of giving up our time in provision of generating something someone else wants and needs.
To simplify a little more, I´ll make an assumption that most people in this bracket have hence EARNED their money by fair means, which excludes robbery, fraud, and other blatantly deceptive income generators (although even these methods don´t prevent an individual from coming apart when they hit the jackpot, so to speak. But I´ll come onto that later). So in essence, you´ve worked hard for it, or even won it, so why the apparent need to go haywire and even self destruct?
Some of this is could be put down to no longer needing to live within the confines of self-restraint for survival. Money has that effect on many people; the more you have, then potentially the more FREE TIME you have to fulfil yours, and indeed others´, hearts desires. On the other hand, when your desires and wishes are now much easier to obtain, mostly because you have the fiscal means to buy so many of them, then the boredom of participating in haphazardly colossal spending, sets in pretty soon.
Witness the gamut of people who´ve made sizeable fortunes through a mixture of luck and design VERY rapdily into their working lives. There comes a tipping point where they feel they´ve now done EVERYTHING they once wanted to do, but couldn´t before due to a lack of money. Of course, this makes the assumption that large sums of money are akin to a life enervating elixir so you can achieve all you wanted to, buy all you wanted to, and so on. But like any elixir, there has to be some level of management of the dosage. This is where psychological factors come sharply into play.
If, for example, you are born into wealth, you will become aware of the privileges, responsibilities and even pitfalls of money quite sooner than those who haven´t. Without recourse to writing an essay on the pros and cons of the aforementioned statement, the evidence is available on the internet (and other sources), to peruse. The almost overnight rags to riches stories are the ones that find it harder to cope, cause the mechanisms weren´t readily – if at all – available for them to learn from and ingest, in order to cope with the economic, social and (percieved) psychological freedom that a huge leap in fiscal comfort can bring. Now this is where the immediate surroundings also come into play.
Even if you haven´t been born into abject poverty or the extremes of huge wealth, your family and friends will influence your lives tremendously, up to a point where your own personality becomes a (hopefully), more stabilised concoction of those around you , as well as YOUR OWN experiences and memories. Furthermore, if your immediate environment provides a mixed or even suspicious attitude to something, then this will also seep into your own psyche.
I´ve seen this countless times, where people are striving to achieve some level of economic solvency, then luxury and comfort, via phenomenal amounts of hard work to make the money, only to be chided and even emotionally rebuked by others around them in the process. Understandably, this can then lead to the individual relocating in many cases, just to save their own sanity and retain a healthy perspective on their own achievement. But some element of guilt remains, as if they feel like the odd one out. Sometimes, people then redistribute some of their wealth to the aforementioned others, to let them feel thanked, appreciated and even loved for being around them during the process. However, if many of the people around you haven´t actually contributed anything on an emotional or practical level, then is this always a good idea?
It can be argued that, if you´ve earned your money mostly by fair means then why feel guilty? More importantly, if others aren´t now happy for you, then as hard as it is, you shouldn´t feel the regular need to BUY the rejuvenation of their affection for you. How you give, use, donate or even squander (god forbid), your money should be up or down to you, shouldn´t it? If only it was that easy, for we are human after all, and rationale may have come into play when making the millions, but logic is easily surrendered when it comes to dealing with EMOTIONS and their related scenarios and situations.
Success, whether as a win or a result of years of hard work, is also an emotional FEELING. The achievement and sense of fulfilment is unmistakably tied together with an emotional response. Hence, the resultant abundance of wealth coming to you will have an emotional opportunity cost. In this case, there will be time lost that could have been spent with friends and family. The net result, for example, may hence be a mixture of praise and dissention or even jealousy from those who consider themselves your contemporaries. The reasons for this aren´t as simple as neglect, but also feelings such as inadequacy that others may already be harbouring within themselves. Arguably, you cannot buy/give gifts etc to others in an attempt to constantly redress this imbalance, and still be held accountable for everyone else´s feelings towards you. However, you CAN have or learn the socioeconomic micro management skills yourself, or be able to find those who DO have those abilities, to help you manage your wealth, as to regulate the flow of money around your life. This is irrespective of whether you decide to be benevolent to those around you or not.
I briefly touched on the more immoral gain-getters earlier such as robbers, con-men et al. You´d have thought they haven´t made any sacrifices along the way to get their wealth, and hence generated no emotional opportunity cost in the process. But of course, they have; the emotional deficit created in being a rip off merchant or thief is considerable, and this alone is enough to send many to a path of rapid self destruction. In other such cases, the more logical need to keep ahead of the law on a constant basis( a more visceral and measurable opportunity cost) , means there isn´t much time to trully relax to ironically enjoy the money within a more liberated mindset and environment.
It could be argued then, that money just brings out the worst in many, cause it signifies unlimited opportunities, unhindered levels of control and uninhibited behaviours which escalate to a level that is far beyond the norms and conventions created by society. But that´s an unrealistic EXTREME. Money can BECOME a problem, when there is no emotional, psychological and practical skillset available to regulate the flow of its consumption within the owner´s life. In other words, there needs to be a level of self control and discipline excercised at some point , in order to not only continuously enjoy it, but also to hence be able to distribute and create opportunites for growth and progress for the individual and others too. Witness the all major industrialists in the world, as of today. Yes, of course they may have relocated to huge mansions , with exotic locations and cars at their disposal. But if you look a little more closely, you´ll find that a large number of them have structures in place to protect their assets, provide growth opportunites, give generously to charities AND to their loved ones, whilst keeping a positive outlook on life.
Panic can set in when one acquires wealth, because the more discerning leap mentally ahead and realise the effect it will have on their self image and immediate incumbents. Others will go crazy and spend, spend, spend away in a swathe of joy, only to find that those they´ve spent on, want more and are now conditioned to a newer level of comfort which they cannot indefinately sustain; this sometimes includes themselves! History has proved many times, that overindulgence isn´t a durable lifestyle choice in the long run.
They key words here are balance and management. Providing there is a self-regulatory ability therein, or perhaps someone to shepherd and even mentor the individual (or collective) on their ascension to prosperity, (even if that prosperity is seemingly quite suddenly arrived at), then there is a better chance to actually enjoy the fruits of this fiscal success in the long term. More importantly, this will help in minimising the aforementioned downsides, unwanted side effects and social «tumbles» in the process.
In effect, moderation, growth and regular reassessment, are keys to a healthier and happier lifestyle; even more so when you´re financially plentiful, otherwise you´ll be another flash in the pan who couldn´t cope with the luck and abundance available to you in your own life.