Can You Be Rich and Miserable?

by Vered DeLeeuw · 14 comments

Of course you can.

If celebrity culture is teaching us anything, it is that yes, you can have lots of money and still be miserable, so miserable in fact that you ruin your life with addictions, even lose your life to them.

I recently watched an interesting movie on DVD, Meet Bill. Not a masterpiece but certainly entertaining and also thought-provoking. The guy, Bill, married into a rich family.  He works in the family business, lives a life of luxury, and you would think he has a great life – except that his father in law, his brother in law and his wife all disrespect him. He’s bored, unfulfilled, miserable, and desperately wants to make it on his own.

Money IS Important

Money may not guarantee happiness, but I’ll never tell you that money is not important, because I know it is. Money helps us ensure that our basic human needs such as food, shelter and clothing are always met, whether we’re employed or not. When you have money, you don’t need to worry about whether you would be able to provide for your family and you are free to pursue what interests you in terms of occupation and hobbies.

Money buys you peace of mind, and this is priceless. The problem begins when we expect money to buy us happiness. This is a problem, because money doesn’t always guarantee happiness, and in fact there are lots of cases where getting a large amount of money has ruined people’s lives.

What Are Your Expectations?

It’s all about expectations. We all strive to have more money – but what do we expect to achieve through that? If you have a very narrow focus on money as something that frees you from daily worries and enables you to do more with your life, that’s great. But if you view money as the ticket to living “the good life” and being happy, you might find yourself bitterly disappointed.

Rich and Unhappy = Ungrateful?

People who have money but are unhappy sometimes seem ungrateful. When I watched that movie, my first reaction was, “Oh, get over it and start being grateful for what you have!” When I read the tabloids as the supermarket checkout line, I often think that celebrities are just spoiled brats. How can they take everything they have and ruin it all? How can they blow all that money off on luxuries and – worse – on drugs and alcohol – and end up so lonely and miserable?

But they often do, which provides proof, again and again, that indeed money does not buy happiness.

Rich and Miserable Beats Poor and Miserable

Whenever I bring up this subject, my husband smiles and tells me that “It’s better to be rich and miserable than to be poor and miserable,” and I guess he’s right. But while being poor and miserable makes sense to me – after all if you’re poor you have a lot to worry about, being rich and miserable seems almost sinful. If you have the money to free you from the daily struggle to survive, don’t you owe it to yourself to make the most out of your life, and to also give back to your community?

How do you feel about people that seem to have it all but are obviously unhappy?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

LoveBeingRetired September 23, 2010 at 7:15 am

Good observations – I agree that money is important at many levels from security to providing a little freedom to do what you want. But how much money is enough? A lot of people just keep pushing and working incredible hours, adding more and more to a nest egg that may already be sufficient for them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. And the cost in terms of a sub-par relationship with your family and friends, playing second fiddle while you work long hours to ever increase your nest egg, is something that cannot be fixed. Trade-offs exist in everything so we need to be sure we account for the real cost of stockpiling more money than we may really need.

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vered September 23, 2010 at 7:39 am

“How much money is enough?” That’s a fascinating question. It seems that the more people have, the more they want. Perhaps it’s human nature to never be satisfied with what you’ve got – and I guess it has a silver lining too, because it keeps us productive and working, which is good for us and good for the economy.

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KM September 23, 2010 at 8:31 am

There was an article about that recently somewhere. I think the number was $75k annually as the magic earnings number which provides enough to be happy and not worried about money, while everything above that doesn’t translate to more happiness.

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marci357 September 23, 2010 at 9:16 am

more like $20,000 :)

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MoneyNing September 23, 2010 at 9:54 am

I think you have to take that number with grain of salt. Never mind that the number is different in different places, but it’s easy for everyone to read that and be happy if they make over that income, but $75k now does mean $75k for life.

Just because you have $75k now doesn’t mean you will have $75k (or more when inflation kicks in) when you are 70 years old, so take savings into account too.

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KM September 23, 2010 at 7:33 am

I think the rich people that are miserable in their lives are either:

-the ones that work and work and don’t actually have any hobbies or spend enough time with their families, which are huge happiness boosters, or

-the ones that earned huge amounts very quickly and maybe early on (celebrities, athletes, etc) and don’t know how to be responsible with it and use it to actually make them happy (VIP parties, for example, don’t make anyone happy in the long term).

Of course, there are exceptions to both of those types, but it seems to be a pattern. Money does not cause happiness on its own, but money is a tool that one can use to create happiness. Just like if you don’t know how to use a hammer to drive in a nail, you won’t be able to build anything, if you don’t know how to use money as a tool, then it won’t bring you any happiness (you can still be happy, just not because of money).

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marci357 September 23, 2010 at 9:23 am

Miserable is an attitude – a self-inflicted….. and anyone can change their attitude if they WANT to :)

Money did not ruin those people’s lives – misuse or abuse of it did…. and if they had put it into a trust, then the brother attempting to kill for it would not have worked :)

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MoneyNing September 23, 2010 at 9:51 am

I used to think that people who with money have it all, so it was easy for me to feel strongly about people who are rich and miserable. But I slowly began to realize that it’s a somewhat incorrect view. Money is great to have, similar to how it’s great to be tall, or coordinated, or energetic, but having it, while helps in many different ways, doesn’t mean life will just take care of itself.

Money is like possessing a good character trait. You still have to use it to your advantage to be happy. Otherwise, you’re like that smart guy you know who never applied himself.

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Jenna September 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

I think it comes down to passion, which is frustrating to watch someone who “has it all” yet has no passion. People with money can afford to take more risks to find what makes them happy and help others but are sometimes controlled by their responsibilities and “stuff”. Bummer.

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Friar September 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Maybe the miserable people would have been miserable, regardless of how much money they had. And money just helped speed up the process.

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Steve Jobs September 28, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Obviously, the rich does not know what happiness means. They all have the money to spend but they can’t buy happiness since they don’t know what to buy for. I can be poor but happy and contented because I know what happiness means. Until you cannot define happiness for yourself, rich or poor you will be miserable.

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Bonnie September 30, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Very interesting topic. I am a mobile pet groomer in So Cal and have clients from all areas of greater Los Angeles. I see up close and personal how people live. Some of my weathy clients are so unhappy and some of my poor clients happy. Why? A lot has to do with family ties, and how close they are or are not to their families. True wealth is found in our human relationships, not in our bank accounts. Some people have a better relationship and spend more money on their pets then their children.

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Life Coaching February 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Money is nothing but an inanimate object with no inate value. We assign value to it. The gentleman giving it away has assigned more pain than value to his money, so therefore, it is his opinion that is causing him the unhappiness, not the money itself. Very interesting story though, thanks for sharing.

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Agatha @ Free Money Tips December 13, 2011 at 11:11 am

To me, money represents freedom. If you manage it wisely it gives you the freedom to do what you want when you want, rather than living the life as an economic slave. It’s the people that acquire money for ego, greed, or to keep up with the Joneses that always seem to end up miserable.

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