Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rich and Miserable

You have probably heard the variety of media reports and studies that show how people who win lotteries wind up miserable. The huge windfall overwhelms them. It affects their friendships and their relationship with family members. It messes up their heads and they wind up in bad shape.

We have a true tale from a friend who found himself in a similar situation. It is worth examining here, because it highlights issues about our complicated relationship with money and what makes us happy.

This friend started his own business. And for five years, this business grew like a weed. It consumed his every waking hour. He worked very hard to build this business from nothing to something special – and very valuable.

He finally decides to sell the business. He is in his fifties and knows that if he sells the business he will never have to worry about money ever again. Price tag: $100 million.

Time to celebrate right? You would think so.

But a strange thing happens….

Life goes on as before… only he is very rich. And he is depressed. He had been going a hundred miles an hour feeding this business, and then one day he wakes up and he has nothing to do. All the time and money in the world – and yet he miserable.

He is bored. He feels his life has no purpose or meaning. The money he thought would make him happy doesn’t.

So it takes him about two years of being depressed to get over this and think it through. He finds other things to do that he enjoys. I don’t want to get into too many details, as I am sure our friend would like to stay anonymous.

But the details are not as important as the general outline of the story. We think it shows, once again, how people assume money will make them happy… that the material goods that they can buy and the security lots of money brings will make their lives better. And yet, it doesn’t play out that way.

We look at our own lives. We make more money now than we thought we’d ever make doing what we do. And yet life goes on as before. We are richer, but life still has all the same challenges it had before.

Even so, this post is not going to end as you think it might. We won’t say that we would not take $100 million if we should be so lucky as to win a lottery – and it would be especially lucky since we don’t buy lottery tickets.

We most definitely would take $100 million.

We believe the inability of so many people to deal with new found wealth is because they lack the absurd perspective. They search for meaning where there really isn’t any. Suddenly finding themselves with a lot of money, the absurdity of their own situation becomes a little more clear – and they don’t like it.

Their old job has no meaning now that they are rich. Old concerns and worries have little meaning in the context of all this new wealth. Old friends seem less like friends and more like beggars. It is like all the old things they cherished are rendered less important because of the money. It is almost like these winners find themselves in a vacuum and they can’t immediately fill it and so they get depressed or grow miserable.

But if you have the absurd perspective already, then the new money should make little difference. Life had no meaning before. More money does not change that. The absurd man is comfortable in the vacuum – an indifferent universe, without meaning, in which he has very little control. He celebrates these things.

So, we would say the upshot of the absurd (one of many such benefits) is that you become more indifferent to money and to your financial status and the financial status of others. The absurd man does not know envy for he knows the end is the same for all.


  1. I do care about money because I need to feed, clothe and educate my kids. One can be indifferent to money once such basic needs have been met.

  2. What kind of idiot would experience boredom whilst being rich? Seriously. Do people suddenly no longer have hobbies once they have money? How about doing somethng time consuming like gardening, or traveling to local towns, or participating in a community outreach program? I call bullshit on the stories of the rich and miserable. If money makes them so sad, why do they refuse to give away what they don't need? Instead, you see these "miserable" rich folks not only hoarding money, but multiplying it too.

    Money DOES buy you happiness if you have your head on right, and INVEST the money, and NOT blow it all on useless crap in a vain attempt to suck up to the elite caste. Fuck all of those religious nutjobs who want us all to remain poor.