How to be rich
March 7, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand that money is not the same as success.

I know this is true, but still feel envious when I find out that others are rolling in cash. Are there any books or websites that help put things in perspective, and discuss the value of all the other things in life apart from the almighty dollar?
posted by superfish to Work & Money (23 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse had money. They both died at early ages, due to their abuse of drugs or alcohol. So were they successful? That depends on how you define success.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Art of Happiness with the Dalai Lama goes into some of these themes, and some of the research that shows how, beyond basic needs, money doesn't often increase happiness.
posted by ldthomps at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've found that a little perspective helps: Do you live on more than $2 a day? Congratulations! You're wealthier than nearly half of the world's population!

posted by sugarbomb at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in investment banking (I'm a support peon) and I'm surrounded by very, very wealthy people, which has given me a very interesting perspective.

My first (trite) observation is that certainly, having money is better than not. You simply have more options with money than you do without.

However - be very careful what you wish for. Many of the people I work with work like dogs. Sure, they drive flashy cars, live in ginormous mansions, have vacation villas in Aspen or Italy and take outrageous vacations - but I'd argue that they don't get to enjoy most of it. They never see their kids during the week, and frequently work on the weekends as well. All of them have to work on their vacation (blackberry etc) and most of them have had to cut vacations short.

A high percentage ends up divorced.

Another high percentage (in my anecdotal experience) ends up on multiple medications to handle stress, ulcers, anxiety, blood pressure etc - over the last year, I personally know 3 high-level execs who have had to take medical leaves (which are quite rare because of the social stigma attached in our industry).

Another factor is that not only do they often not get to enjoy what they make, they also often overspend. Many, many of them are left completely without resources if they lose their job or their bonus (there was a recent article on Yahoo about this which I don't have time to find right now). Boo hoo for them, I know, but don't assume that just because someone is flashing wealth around, that they actually have it. Or any peace of mind around money.

It's hard not to get jealous sometimes. But the reality of the situation is very different from the flashy facade sometimes.
posted by widdershins at 10:11 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Consider reading, "The Millionaire Next Door" by Stanley & Danko. It changed a lot about how I view wealth, particularly in others. What it basically explains is that a lot of people with a lot of money aren't who you'd think they'd be, and a lot of folks who seem to be rich are just drowning in debt in order to keep up appearances.
posted by rkriger at 10:22 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding The Millionaire Next Door. One thing the author shows, through actual data, is that lots of people who are apparently living well, are actually living off their parents, even well into adulthood and middle age. So, there's often more than meets the eye when someone seems to be rolling in money.
posted by jayder at 10:30 AM on March 7, 2012

How do you define success? Being able to do what you want on a daily basis? Sexual relations with vast numbers of attractive and exciting partners? Having loving and pleasant family and friends? Making some kind of mark on culture or history? Retiring early? All of the above?

Money might make these things easier, but it's neither necessary nor sufficient for any of them. Achieving your goals depends on what goals will personally make you happy.

Case in point: This year I made 3x more money than last year, but I did so by working long hours at a job that makes me miserable and prevents me from doing the activities I enjoy, spending time with people I care about, or trying to start a relationship with anybody. I don't consider this success.

Consider also: Most people want to put on the best face possible for showing the outside world their life. The reality may be that your rich friends' lives are much less rosy than you imagine.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:31 AM on March 7, 2012

"There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way."
- Christopher Morley
posted by carsonb at 10:45 AM on March 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

Success to me is coming home and feeling like, yeah, I live here. This is my place (or my rented place) and I've got just enough to do outside of work that I'm not bored or put-upon by others.

So I think that can be reduced to simply having fun your way, just about every day that its possible to have fun.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:13 AM on March 7, 2012

One of the things that I don’t think occurs to people a lot is "the more you have, the more you worry about losing what you have." I’m sure many have said that better, but I’ve seen people become slaves to their wealth because they are so afraid of losing it.

I’m not at all trying to insult you here, but I’m also not sure that the problem you’re having is simply about a perspective on money. I suspect the "envious" part might be a big part of the problem. I would like to have more money but I don’t at all feel envious of people who do. There’s no connection.
posted by bongo_x at 11:31 AM on March 7, 2012

I like to remember that economics sprouted from the attempt to quantify happiness. It became focused on money as proxy measurement of happiness. This makes sense under the following assumptions: You are the best agent to decide what makes you happy. Your purchases should be assumed to maximize your happiness. On the income side, you are leveraging your most precious asset, time, to earn as much money as you need to purchase the things that maximize your happiness. So physical goods come at a cost that isn't seen by the casual onlooker.

I like the philosophy as a rule of thumb. But like all generalities, it misses a lot. People are dumb. They buy gadgets, when studies have shown that experiences actually create more happiness. They see money as success, rather than a proxy to success, and get sucked into jobs that provide little time for personal satisfaction.

Wealth is all about opportunity cost. For most people with wealth, they've given up quite a bit to get there. I might be jealous of their insight or luck or other attribute that got them there. But not so much the fruits of their labor. And I've known enough trust fund kids to believe the people who haven't usually have a hard time keeping both feet on the ground. The market is capricious and beats everyone up a fair amount, teaching a certain number of hard lessons. Not being subject to that sort of discipline has it's own psychological disadvantages that make it hard for me to be particularly envious. There's a reason so many celebrities are a train wreck.
posted by politikitty at 11:36 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Money is used to buy things, right? Ok, so here's a good exercise:

Make a list of the last 10 things that you purchased that cost more than $100, and that made you happy for more than a month.

Note - continuous use is not the same as happiness. If you bought an awesome HD tv, but stopped noticing how clear the picture was after a month, the tv doesn't count. If you have an iphone that you use every day, but it's long since stopped seeming cool to you, that doesn't count either.

Were you even able to come up with 10? Things don't really make us as happy as we think they will, because we get used to them very quickly.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:39 AM on March 7, 2012

This may help you:

Finally, a Reason To Stop Trying So Hard.
posted by zizzle at 11:43 AM on March 7, 2012

"Money doesn't make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million."
Arnold Schwarzenegger
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Money is a measure of success for a lot of people. If you don't want it to be your measure of success, don't concentrate on why it shouldn't be; concentrate on what you do want to be your measures of success.

I climbed the corporate ladder for seven years and then decided on a career path that was much more rewarding but much less lucrative. Now I'm planning to go back to school so that I can be more successful at that career path, but I'll likely be making less money, even after I reenter the work force.

If this all comes to fruition, my perception of my own success over my adult life will have been negatively correlated with my income.
posted by gurple at 12:02 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need just enough money (this is a personal # different for everyone). Before you reach this level (monthly salary or savings) money correlates directly with success and maybe happiness.

After you reach this level, you start to look for other things which are scarce in your life (time, recognition, health) and that becomes the measure of success.
posted by NoDef at 12:10 PM on March 7, 2012

One study found that "the lower [an American's] annual income falls below [$75,000] the unhappier he or she feels. But no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don't report any greater degree of happiness.

So, sure, money can buy you happiness- but not that much. Money also doesn't have any relationship to values like love, compassion, charity or kindness. It's kind of weird, because our culture really and truly wants us to believe that money is connected to those things. But it isn't! Those values are non-monetary. The better you are at divorcing those concepts in your mind, the closer you are to being happy, and the more you will feel sorry for people like these poor bastards who feel like they can't get ahead on six-figure salaries.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2012

Psychology talks about reinforcers as things we want and will shape our behavior to attain. Primary reinforcers are elemental, things like air, water, sex, love, the esteem of others. Secondary reinforcers gain their power from being paired with primary reinforcers. I think of things like money, party invitations, and Facebook friends as secondary reinforcers. They aren't the "real things" but become highly associated with them.

People can easily forget what's really important (the primary) and find themselves mindlessly and obsessively pursuing the secondary. Often these people recognize this. They'll say things like, "I don't know why I'm working so hard, I don't even enjoy all the [money, invites, Facebook friends] the way I used to." But they can't seem to stop, until something happens that reminds them of what's important to them. Sometimes that something is a tragedy, like the loss of a loved one, or a serious medical condition. If we're lucky, we then get reminded of *why* we were working so hard to begin with in the first place. It wasn't the money, it was that the money was supposed to make it possible for us to enjoy our loved ones.

See if you can put your envy to one side by figuring out what's important to you, and focusing on structuring your life so you can spend more time doing that.
posted by jasper411 at 12:36 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Things you own end up owning you."

-Tyler Durden
posted by bendy at 7:03 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I spent some time as an investment banking peon, too. Know what? The peeps I worked with in the comic book shop were MUCH happier on a daily basis, if they were able to make their rent. And the people in investment banking spent a lot more time and energy freaking out about not making their mortgage than the comics guys did about not making their rent. Read the Art of Happiness and the Millionaire Next Door, by all means. And remember the daily joy that the comics team got. I spent some time analyzing this. I know you were asking for books and websites, but, hey, mefi's a website, right? So here's why I re-evaluated my career path, left investment banking and took a pilgrimage to Walden Pond:

1) comics staff were surrounded by things they love: words, art, stories
2) lots of personal interaction with a variety of people (many of them fascinating)
3) opportunities to express themselves creatively on the job
4) management open to hearing their ideas on marketing, store design, etc.
5) no subliminal feelings of guilt that they were pushing a product the client didn't really need (the bankers would never admit to this out loud, but a reasonably astute observer could tell)
6) exposure to new ideas
7) opportunity to share expertise, even if the expertise was in a fairly limited area
8) somewhat flexible scheduling to attend to life outside the comic store
9) responsibility, but not so much that you'd crack
10) an acknowledgement that their having fun (within reason) on the job actually made a more pleasant retail environment. The sense of sharing this camaraderie is what brought a lot of new customers back as regulars.

I'd say all those workers felt successful on a daily basis. For the bankers, nothing was ever good enough... it was always about the next day's goal, or the next week's... not enough time in the NOW. And frankly, I'd rather spend an evening with the comics store gang than Donald Trump any day... even if I did have to buy the meal 'cause the comics guys were all broke.

My manager at the bank left her job after I left mine, and went to work for Hospice. I talked to her once after she was in her new job. She was MUCH happier, and felt much more successful. And the intense drop in her pay didn't even seem to matter.
posted by theplotchickens at 7:04 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Success and happiness to me is not about monetary wealth but how much time I have to enjoy life and how connected I am to my creativity and family and friends and community.

You might find some of the principles of Your Money or Your Life interesting.
posted by {quick brown fox} at 12:14 AM on March 8, 2012

Money isn't the problem, the envying others' money is.
posted by gjc at 7:01 AM on March 8, 2012

I just saw this tweet from a Christian-pastor-run twitter-account the other day, and it seemed a reasonable response to your question:

Your desire is not your own. You mimic what you see others desire around you. Two kids in a room full of toys will fight over the same toy.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:40 AM on March 9, 2012

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