Is Getting Rich Worth It?

The titular question was posed on Quora, and one rich person, who claims to have made $15M after selling a tech startup offers a surprisingly nuanced and insightful answer:

“Being rich is better than not being rich, but it’s not nearly as good as you imagine it is.”

Other rich responders were less enthusiastic. Another writes:

“Made $20M on second start-up. Finally, real f’you money. I feel no better. Yes, I bought a better house. I didn’t even bother to buy nicer cars. Who cares. I just bought some more jeans. Look, I am intellectually proud and gratified to have this money. But it didn’t buy my freedom, which I had from before. It didn’t improve the quality of my life.”

Informally, I’ve also had the chance to meet rich people. My sense from those encounters is that being rich is nice, but it’s hardly the panacea people make it to be. I doubt many of those rich people are significantly happier than they would be with only a moderate income. Some may even be less happy.

The research also sides with this intuition. Kahneman shares in this talk that the relationship between money and happiness flattens at around $60,000 per year.

However, when I ask people who aren’t earning a lot of money about this, the responses are nearly universal. They would be ecstatic to have such wealth, and can’t comprehend why those spoiled, ungrateful rich people aren’t living in utopia.

I imagine even now many of you are rolling your eyes at even the mention of rich people complaining about being rich. But that’s exactly my point. Why are our intuitions so different from reality? If being fabulously rich is only a moderate boost to happiness, why don’t we see it that way, in advance?

Location Independence, Freedom and Money

Being rich is just one fantasy. You could replace the entire preceding introduction with “location independence”, “fame” or “a relationship”. People who don’t have them feel they would change everything. People who do have them find they don’t change nearly as much as they had thought.

In that way, I suppose I too live a life which is only a fantasy to some. I’m a full-time blogger. I can live wherever I want, work on whatever I want and how much I want. While I’m not super rich, I’m earning much more than I had expected when I got started nearly seven years ago.

I say this not to brag, but to provide contrast. For the first eighteen years of my life I lived in an isolated tiny town in northern Manitoba. My parents are middle class, but I definitely had my poor moments in college. I washed my clothes in a bathtub for a year because the laundromat was too expensive.

I’ve been enormously lucky, and I’m both grateful and happy. Success has made me happier, but like the previous respondents, the change is less dramatic than you would think. I worry about money less, I travel more, and I certainly don’t have the entrepreneurial angst that came with starting an unproven business.

I feel my success may have even been buffered from the disillusionment of the previous examples. I never really strove for location independence, fame or money. All I wanted to do was to be able to run a business without needing a job. My dream was to do something, not to have something. This might explain why having a lot of money and nothing to do feels empty. Life is more about doing, than having.

I was fortunate enough to anticipate that money and location independence wouldn’t make me happy. So when they entered my life, I saw them as being nice perks, not disappointments because my day-to-day life remained mostly unchanged.

The one thing I didn’t predict in advance was the orienting power of my goal itself. Having devoted myself for seven years towards a goal that I not only achieved, but surpassed my expectations was wonderful. But it also led inevitably to ask what could possibly fill the gap?

The Hungers of Life

Imagine, for a moment, the last time you were extremely hungry. So hungry that all you could think about was food (if you can’t think of that, then imagine a time you were in another physical pain, such as exhaustion, heat or cold). In those moments, that pain constrains your life—it focuses your attention and defines how you see the world.

Now remember what it was like to eat food again after that moment of hunger. It probably felt good, for a few minutes, and then there was nothing. When you’re starving, food feels like it will fill you forever and make all your worries disappear. When you’re satiated, the pleasure lasts only for a moment before your mind orients itself to something different.

I argue being rich is like being full. It’s not a bad feeling, and certainly better than being hungry. But as long as you’re well fed, food just isn’t something you think much about.

Most of us have had enough experience with both hunger and fullness to realize that being well-fed doesn’t mean life becomes perfect. But few people have had the same sense of ‘fullness’ with money, to have had the same experience.

If you currently have some hunger in your life for something, be it money, fame, freedom or a relationship, realizing that these hungers are a lot like the physical hungers can help you avoid the disappointment you might feel when you realize that satiation didn’t fix all your problems.

Life Needs Constraints

Great designs always have constraints. In many ways, design is defined by constraints and using them elegantly. Often these constraints are from the environment, but good designers also self-impose constraints.

Life, in this sense, is like a process of design. Without constraints, you have a mess, not blissful freedom. People who live well either take constraints from the environment, or impose others on themselves to live in a more meaningful way.

Some constraints aren’t particularly inspiring of great works. The lowest possible budget hasn’t been the constraint that has produced the best architecture and art. But, it can also be argued, neither has having an unlimited budget with no other limiting scope.

Having more money, location independence, or success in any other dimension, often lifts environmental constraints from our lives. This is usually a positive thing, as I believe self-selected constraints probably result in better art than the random assortment of constraints given to us at birth.

But with more freedom, there is more discipline required to constrain your art.

Maybe you’ll never be rich or location independent. Maybe you even scoff at the idea that these represent real problems, and aren’t just narcissistic whining.

However we live in a rapidly changing world where many of the old constraints may no longer apply. Location independence becomes more common, as GDP rises, more people will live far above subsistence. As old constraints become less relevant, it will be up to us to decide what the new ones should be.

  • Umar

    Step 1: Get $20M.
    Step 2: Give 19.99M to poor.
    Step 3: Move on with life.

  • Joseph Lemien

    One thing about having more money is that it doesn’t only satisfy basic needs, like food does. Having more money gives you more options. If I want to travel to a distant location, if I want to take my wife out for dinner, or if I just want to spend a few hours in a warm and comfortable home, all of these require money. Many ambitions in life require money to fulfill, if for nothing more than to buy the time needed in order to pursue those ambitions. However, excess money allows people to reach higher ambitions, which excess food would not.

    One of my favorite quotes on the subject: “There are many things in life more important than money, and they all cost money.”

  • Serg

    Made $20M on second start-up … I feel no better. Yes, I bought a better house … it didn’t buy my freedom, which I had from before. It didn’t improve the quality of my life

    It didn’t improve the quality of his life because he was already “full”. There are two major thresholds: 1)own a house, 2)not having to work for money (aka freedom). He have crossed both of them after his first startup. That’s why the extra 20M haven’t changed much. The correct question would be whether selling of his FIRST startup improved the quality of his life.

  • david

    I read this while taking a break from job-hunting, while taking a break from coding (which I do whenever I can find enough time to get in the zone), while taking a break from cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking dinner while my partner is at work, while not working or sleeping myself. We are a family of four far below the poverty line, and I mostly agree with you. Mostly.

    Because we are happy. We engage in pursuits we enjoy, we like each other, and we laugh, at each other, at life, at the universe. But we live every day in fear that something will go just wrong enough that we cannot afford our home or our car or food for the month or electricity… you know what I mean, I think, from the general tone of your post. And because I and my family represent more than fifty percent of all humans (yes, I checked; it’s a conservative estimate) who live truly hand to mouth, despite their life satisfaction, I have to say you have really missed the point. More than half the world is “hungry”. I would love to be rich. If I had enough money to give away all but $60,000 a year, I would do that right now in exchange for working for anybody, doing anything that takes less than 60 hours a week. Which is what my partner and I each work now for our $14,000 a year.

  • Jeff

    Interesting article, and I’ve found that to me, money, although important, is not as fulfilling as enjoying the work that I do. I’ve had a fascination with technology since I was a kid, and to me working on solving interesting problems brings me more enjoyment than a paycheck. Money though, is typically a byproduct when you fulfill your own hunger, which in my case is for learning new technologies.

  • zzsamzz

    “However we live in a rapidly changing world where you many of the old constraints may no longer apply.” Should read “where many.” Other than that, very insightful!

    [Note from Scott: Thanks, I’ve corrected it! My writing style tends to be a lot of rewriting sentences, so I sometimes miss a word in the proofreading.]

  • Gertrude Nadas

    Would you add your thoughts, based on your insight, as to why today’s ultra-rich want to be even richer?

    Let’s take as grist for your mill, the richest 400 Americans. Forbes has calculated their net worth to be greater than the poorest 150 million Americans.

    These 400 people are folks who continue to make money even at their pinnacle ‘success’, when there is simply no conceivable way they can even spend the billions of dollars they have now.

  • Sam

    Excellent post, Scott. I have also found that when you actually get something that you wanted for a long time, it’s not nearly as amazing as you would’ve thought.

    I have experienced a similar feeling when traveling. I absolutely love traveling, but when I actually do travel, it’s not as dream-like and amazing as I imagined (even though I’ve traveled several times, I still have that same kind of fantasy about traveling).

    However, I think the most important thing for me are the memories that these experiences bring. My memories of past travels are some of the best in my life. When I look back at pictures when I was at such-and-such place, it feels great and I feel happy. While the actual moment is not as good as my imagination would have made me believe (traveling can sometimes be tiring or even frustrating), memories are always great. Do you feel something similar?

    Perhaps another reason why people say they are not as satisfied as they thought they would be if such-and-such thing happened to them might be because we very quickly forget. We forget how hungry we were, or how sad we were. I have very fond memories of my 2 years in Vancouver, but when I was actually there, studying my ass off and suffering the gloom that 8 continuous months of rain brought me, I think it was not nearly as great as I remember it.

    When somebody becomes rich, the same process might happen, where they have fond memories of the time when they didn’t have that much money, while in reality at that actual time it might have been worse. I don’t know if this makes sense, but anyway. I feel like the past is more like a dream, and our perception of past events seems to get distorted very quickly. We then get used very quickly to our new situation.

  • peter

    Here’s the problem I see with rich folks. (Not all of them, but most of them.)

    It’s like having a 1000 cable TV channels and complaining that there’s nothing to watch. It’s hearing my ultra-rich google friend asking me why I give homeless people money. It’s selfishness.

    It’s the notion of “meh.” Instead of taking the wealth and doing something with it, they buy a better houses and jeans. If that is the case, why do you bother making money? If it doesn’t bring you joy – what’s use?

    I think getting rich is completely worth it if you’re willing to use it to make life better. I don’t mean give it all away to a orphanage (unless that’s what you want) – imagine the freedom the money will afford you. Maybe tutor someone, be a big brother, a mentor.

    But if you’re getting rich to buy more jeans, well then it certainly isn’t.

  • radu

    interesting point of view. money doesn’t make you happy — because it’s not supposed to. that’s why many lottery winners end up losing most of their friends and most of the jackpot.

    i think the right perspective is that money is an instrumental asset rather than a goal in itself. if you used your earnings (or jackpot, or inheritance) for whatever makes you happy, you will be happy. build a hospital, feed the children and the less privileged seniors, help animals on the edge of extinction, fight global warming, finance cancer research, do random acts of kindness or even make ‘trivial’ surprises to your friends — now that would be making your money work for your happiness.

    so getting rich is worth it only if that’s going to finance your dreams.

  • Anne

    hi Scott, interesting post and what jumped out at me was that while having money is nice (actually rather nice :-)), it still won’t give you the self-respect and pride you get in actually doing/mastering something. For example this year I passed my first ever music exam (I’m in my 40s and the only thing I ever played before this was cds…) and the pride and delight of that was immense. 🙂 The fun of mastering something/solving a problem/achieving a competence is something that can only be done through effort and intention. Money doesn’t really make much difference to that. actually have you written anything about learning music? Would be interested in your take on that..best wishes and well done to YOU. Have a wonderful 2013. Anne

  • Chris

    I got a truck one time that I had worked my ass off for for more than four years. In anticipation of the very subject in this article, I taped a small item to the bottom of the speedometer.

    It read “Be Thankful”

    When I sold the truck six years later, I missed that reminder. Now it hangs on my mirror, in the space just above my head where I brush my teeth every morning. Give it a try.

  • dag

    “Great designs always have constraints. In many ways, design is defined by constraints and using them elegantly. Often these constraints are from the environment, but good designers also self-impose constraints.”

    I certainly know that as an arquitect and as a writer, but I missed the following paragraph. Interesting post, as always.

  • Alfredo Carrera

    Dear Scott
    Would you so kind as to ellaborate on the types of personal constraints you have personally used?
    Best regards
    Alfredo

  • Scott

    Human nature is to want more , some just become more driven to reach a goal while others are happy with complaining about the people that have. The world is full of opportunities , what do you want ? Go get it!
    Cheers Scott

  • Rick Rivkin

    A person who cashes in his company for $15m reaches a totally different socioeconomic status. That distinction should be used because it implies that the person simply lives differently. The entrepreneur you mention seems to have not adjusted to the lifestyle change. People do put the rich on the podium, and it’s sometimes unfair. That podium comes with responsibilities. Being rich puts a person in a life that most do not experience. Rich people should use their resource and ask themselves, “what’s next?”.

  • Harry @ GoalsOnTrack

    Very insightful post, Scott.

    I think that there’s nothing inherently wrong with striving to get rich, but rather it’s a matter of how we do it, our attitude and life philosophy behind it. Do we do it just for pursing a feeling of being rich, superiority, vanity, and ego satisfaction? Or do we do it as a means of self growth, doing what we love, and in the process contributing something meaningful to the world? It’s not all about the end goal, but perhaps more about living well and enjoying the journey.

  • Peter

    Very well reasoned post. I really have to mull over some of the points you made.

    The analogy you related of satisfying hunger being like satisfying one’s need for money, was great! Really illuminating.

    Great read as usual. Thanks. Take care.

  • Alastair

    one aspect of this question that is interesting to me is around the phenomenon of those who are rich and powerful who will do almost anything to extend their wealth and power. You just have to look at the strangle hold various parts of the corporate, financial services and bankster worlds have on our societies and the natural environment. It’s 100% sociopathic.

    To invoke your analogy Scott, if these people are full, why do they seek to be ever more and more full? Is it driven by unconscious craving alone or are the institutional rules such that the executive class are obliged to behave in anti-social, anti-safe-climate and anti-environment if they want to maintain their position in the game?

    It was once said in a Mick Jagger doco “money and power are like fertiliser” (preferably not the synthesised kind!), you can help others with it (inference being Jagger didn’t help others enough with his riches he just squanders them on his vanity and debauchery). Too much fertiliser on any plant, (especially synthetics) will kill a plant to finish the analogy for you.

  • Eugene

    You’re one step ahead of me, Scott. It took me almost 55 years on Earth to fully recognize and accept the realities you have articulated here, in about half the time. But I hope it doesn’t take you another quarter century to grasp the reality that getting rich is worth it, provided you can master your carnal nature that fools you into believing that once you are rich, you are invincible. You’re one of the last generations for a long time that may get the chance to free yourself of the economic constraints that “less than rich” will impose on you. Grab that brass ring, run with it, and don’t stop running until you save the world (even if you die trying, which you will).

  • Tanya

    I enjoy food analogies because I think there are many parallels between how we perceive the world and how our tongues perceive the world 🙂

    I agree with you that being rich (and perhaps many other satisfactions in life) is like being full. Extending this analogy, some people are more creative than others when filling up their stomachs. It’s easier to be a connoisseur of life with lot of money, but being rich doesn’t necessarily make one a connoisseur of life.

  • Max Nachamkin

    Good points, Scott.

    The point that resonated with me the most is that we often see reality differently from what it actually is. In this case poor people think that rich people are happier because they are rich, but from the facts, we can see that this isn’t necessarily the case.

    Yes, having /enough/ money is important to not distract from living life, but having too much money leads to its own problems as well. It’s a shame that value is put into monetary terms for most people, because those rich and unhappy people know that it’s not the case.

    Money is often received in exchange for value, but value doesn’t always have to do with having money. For instance, I rather hang around a down-to-earth dude and work on my business than go out to a club and get a picture with some famous rich DJ. The latter is cool, yeah, but that “happiness” will last for a day tops while I brag about it to friends, but even then who cares?

    Same thing with rich people who convince themselves of their happiness by buying lots of nice things. And they, like most of us, probably forget to question “common sense” that more fun = more happiness.

  • zhiyuan.yang

    Hello, Scott! I’m a student from China. It’s really nice to read this article because I’m struggling to go to America and my origin purpose is just making money. But I never stop thinking about the relationship between happiness and wealth. Fortunately, I’m a curious guy and I learn lots of psychology to solve that problem although my major is computer science.
    I like your idea that says life need constraints but I think if you can read Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi’s book “Flow”, you can get deeper understanding of this problem. I feel those constraints you’ve notices may be superficial and they may be just some kind of unmet needs. But I think after meeting those basic needs, human can still make greater difference.

  • Chris W.

    This post crystalized some of the observations I’ve had as I’ve entered and grown more comfortable in my thirties.

    Scott, your post naturally prompts the question: what constraints have you self-imposed? Which have been the most fruitful?

  • Michael

    Reading stuff like this will definitely help people like myself to better utilize the plethora of money we have if and when we are rich.

    I find that I most fantasize about using money on experiences, as well as helping others and helping me do things I believe in..

    Being a rogue for good I guess.. I’m no saint but there are some things..

  • Harsh

    Money is also the only neutral indicator of the value you create in this world. If you can create value you will make money. If you get paid high for your job, you are creating value. It is important to look at it
    In the right context. Chasing money just for the sake of having more is a fools errand.

  • Nikki Sandham

    I think that the market is going to improve dramatically over the years.

  • Peter Ewin Hall

    The problem with money is that it isn’t an end in itself yet it’s used as the measure of success. Money is good if it enables us to do the things we believe in and to live a purposeful life. Money is less good if it strips away any sense of direction or meaning. Material things rarely make us happy, experiences are much more important. Experiences that take some effort and are important to us (and are not just bought) are the best ones. Money has its limits – we need less of it than we think and it won’t make us as happy as we expect.

  • Cristian

    Great Article Scott! The problem I see with most rich people is that they usually buy stuff but manage not to buy time, the most precious resource we have. Time to find meaningful questions and answers.
    What do you think about the Power Process concept?

  • Guest

    I like the hunger metaphor you used. I experienced it this evening. I was starving and couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I had to wait for my dinner to be prepared, so time was going to pass either way, but instead of using it to do something, all I could do was sit there waiting because I was that~ hungry. I’m going through a hard financial time at the moment and, in the same way, money is on my mind 24/7. I used to be “rich” and never thought about money. I wasn’t happy because of money, but I certainly wasn’t in pain because of it, the way I find myself now. Tony Robbins says we may always have problems there are better quality problems. For example, asking “what’s for dinner?” instead of “can we afford dinner?”. Both problems, but one is much preferable. Although being rich doesn’t make you happy, being poor can make you sad. I’d say getting rich is definitely worth it.

  • Nate Anglin

    Everyone here has made some excellent comments and I take to heart what Eugene has mentioned. It should not be a punishment to have or want more if we are unselfishly trying to grasp a grander life goal. It is when we use our money to look better, to selfishly degrade the unfortunate and to not give back if we have such excess. Yes, more money can create more problems if we use it in the wrong context. I do not despise the wealthy but I despise the wealthy who can make $100M and declare bankruptcy 10 years later. This is not wealth, this is stupidity and such stupidity shouldn’t have been able to feel wealth as it completely ruined them. As we make more money, we need to sit down and really think of how we can best use it to fulfill our satiety and be a brother of goodwill.

  • Nahyan

    Excellent article, very insightful. Especially the point on comparing hungers of ambition with physical hunger.

    Thank you.

  • Karen

    I agree with Harry and Nayhan. I would love to have just a “little more money” and with it I could donate to the groups that I know work with the very poor among us. Between taxes, bills, college and HS expenses, there isn’t much left. If my family took in the kind of money you talk about above, we’d save enough to live on now and for retirement and then look to give much of it away. I know many wealthy give a lot away, and I’m thankful they do that. So now we have to ask, “Why are we now condemning the ‘rich’ to pay more taxes, more everything, so the bottom 50% can have more for ‘free’ without also paying some towards government expenses?”

  • Melissa

    Are you single?

  • Chris

    You based this article on a false premise, and one that needs to be corrected in the minds of many. There aren’t two levels of wealth, poor vs rich, there are three: poor, enough, and wealthy. It’s a simple mistake, it’s so easy to divide the world between yourself and anyone that has more than you. It just doesn’t work that well as a paradigm for thinking about wealth, which is why bloggers keep writing articles with titles like “Does money matter?” where they qualify the meaning of “lots” and bring up the concept of “enough”.

    If you compare the last two levels, of course money doesn’t really make a difference. If you compare the first two, it absolutely does. (Being poor means not enough money for health and education, stress, bad living accommodations, and will absolutely cause mental illness, health problems, crime and early death.)

    This was a good article, but it could be much better and help more people if it was clearer on this distinction instead of skirting around it. People read you for better ways to view the world, and a topic like this is a great opportunity to give them that.

  • Brody

    Years ago I came to a similar conclusion about my love life. When I was a hard up virgin I thought my life would be a never ending nirvana if I got some regular sex, or had some one night stands.

    Then I got less awkward around women, and the sex came, and while it was fun enough, it hardly changed my life. That gnawing desperation isn’t there any more, but at the same time I’m not over the moon every second of the day.

    Weirdly, I came up with the same analogy of a starving person to compare how I felt before and after.

  • Ana

    I guess that knowing exactly what are you really pursuing in life can help to avoid this disillusionment.
    Money for money sake is meaningless, for sure. However, coming back to the metaphor of hunger, you could reason that though most of us take food for granted, if you don’t have it, we die. More or less the same apply for money. Those ones who are plenty of it end up taking it for granted, though it is essential to their life styles, including a great deal of peace of mind.

  • Ian Robinson

    Excellent post Scott.

    Id’ add that, generally speaking, we live in the most comfortable time in the history of humanity.

    We’re not afraid that are neighbors are bloodthirsty communists, we don’t have to worry about the Nazi’s spreading across Europe, there are no Barbarians coming down from the hills to rape and pillage our Roman Village. Better yet, no one is recruiting people to go on long terrible missions to kill the barbarians before they can get stronger.

    Best of all, we don’t have to worry about Mongolian Steppe Warriors rolling into town and killing all 200,000 of the town with axes and bows.

    We’ve got it great! When I get down on myself for not having enough money, or not being productive enough, I just think, “thank god I don’t have to worry about mongols rolling into town.”

    Then I feel much better.

    🙂

  • Nasreen Hosein

    Very insightful post. I definitely agree that on a personal level, money becomes boring after you’ve been strategic in achieving your financial goals in a sustainable way.

    I think the really exciting part of wealth is being able to see it take on a new life; in other words, knowing what to do with it. People with money can create enormous amounts of change. Financial planners, or any kind of investment banker, can seriously empower their clients by adding a social enterprise spin to this whole experience.

    A bit off topic, but what came to mind.

  • Lloyd

    I appreciate your insight about money satiety and I’m sure I will incorporate that into my thinking over time. It may also prove useful for dealing with any type of craving when I’m in a relaxed enough mode to run imaginative simulations. I know that my imagination often shuts down that type of behavior for long periods of time, sometimes weeks when I get overly busy, and that is when I am especially susceptible to getting into a pattern of reflexively feeding cravings. At that point, if I take a physical and/or mental stay-cation, I can often see the patterns of addiction and plan my way out of them.

  • Lee

    This is a wonderful conversation – and so refreshing to see in what all too often is portrayed as a greedy, selfish world. I read once that there opposition in all things (to use Scott’s word – constraints) to grow. To appreciate food you have to have known hunger. In order to appreciate wealth, you need to know want. To appreciate the good and beautiful, you have to have experienced bad and ugly. The relative affluence and lack of want in much of our society seems to make it challenging for some of those raised in this environment to recognize opportunities.

  • Keri Peardon

    This reminded me of an article I read some time ago that found most people who had dramatic and sudden weight loss after gastric bypass surgery reported being no happier a year or two after the surgery. In fact, that’s about the time they started gaining weight again.

    They thought that being thinner would make them happier, but most of them had emotional or health problems that were unaffected or barely affected by their weight. When they became thinner, they found that their deep emotional hurts and their physical ailments didn’t magically improve, so when the new wore off the thin body, they began overeating again. Some people even became more unhappy than before.

    I know when I lost a lot of weight quickly on a low-calorie diet, I felt uncomfortable being smaller. It was like I was a fat person hiding in a thin person’s body. I felt like I was a lie. I didn’t feel like me anymore.

    I dream of winning millions in the lottery the same as everyone else, but, as Forrest Gump’s mama used to say: there’s only so much money a man really needs; the rest is just for show. Once your basic needs are taken care of, the rest really is for show. And having more of it won’t help if you have a bad marriage or problems with your children or emotional problems of your own.

  • Scott Young

    Serg,

    But he lost all of that money, which he claims was one of the worst experiences of his life and took four years to recover from.

    Gertrude,

    That’s hard to say, but the assumption is that the ultrarich crave money more than regular people. From the people I’ve met, that simply isn’t the case. The ultrarich have more access, and therefore more ability to make even more money, but that’s a separate issue from desire.

    For those that do, it probably has a couple factors:

    – Greed is probably a personality trait which enables someone to amass wealth in the first place. Therefore the causality direction is backwards.
    – They have rich friends. As incomes grow, so does inequality, so if you spend most your time with the rich and powerful, you’ll feel relatively inadequate since money is so prominent and skewed.
    – Work is an obsession. Once again, career trends are backwards, so the work-obsessed earn a lot of money and still focus on work.

    Chris,

    I’m enormously grateful, something I remind myself of every day.

    Alfredo,

    I don’t have a car, or a house. I live in a small apartment and I try to live my life so that I could pack it all up in a suitcase on a whim. In terms of life philosophy, however, I’m still discovering that.

    Alastair,

    Have you ever met any of these people? I’m not saying it isn’t true, but I believe the media picture of the “rich” as a uniform group is probably going to be misleading.

    If there is some truth to it, I think the causality direction is probably reversed. Narcissism and mildly sociopathic tendencies are positively correlated with career success, so that could explain the personality imbalance.

    Chris,

    This article wasn’t trying to address the issue of poverty versus sufficiency, but if you want to see my thoughts on that:

    http://www.scotthyoung.com/blo

    -Scott

  • Devesh

    Great article and some really interesting comments. One thing worth pointing out is the difference between getting rich and having a strong life partner (relationship). The article lists having a relationship as one of the things that may not be all its cracked up to be after you get it. While that may be true in high school or when you start fatig that hottie for a few months in college, from what I understand of studies contrasting those that are happily married vs. others, the former group does experience a “better” life by many metrics (length, health, etc). I can certainly say being with my life partner is a step change from before. I would never write the kind of descriptions about my life now that the startup founders wrote in their quotes in this article. My life IS different and it IS far more awesome and it HAS changed day to day.

  • Saqalain

    Great article Scott!

    As many other readers on here I think getting rich is worth it if you can use the money for good but I don’t think that should be an ultimate goal from which you would become “full” after you’ve achieved it. I don’t see any reason why you can’t do good even if you’re not rich ‘cos the chances are you’re still better off than so many more people in this planet.

    A couple of quotes on money:

    “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”

    7 reasons Knowledge is better than Wealth:
    “1. Knowledge is inheritance of Prophets while wealth is inheritance of Firauns (tyrants).
    2. Knowledge Does not Diminish (rather increases) with spending, while wealth diminishes with spending.
    3. Wealth requires to be protected, while knowledge protects its owner.
    4. Knowledge will enter the Shroud (in the grave) while wealth will be prevented from doing so.
    5. Wealth reaches both believers and unbelievers, while knowledge is reserved only for those who are worthy of it.
    6. Knowledge will facilitate passing over the Seraat (bridge to heaven) while wealth will pore hurdles.
    7. People are always in need of scholars while they might not be in need of those possessing wealth.”
    Imam ALI (as)

    Any reader who enjoys this topic should watch Freeing the butterfly within by Brother Khalil Jaffer on Youtube ( I’m currently Lovin’ it :))

  • John Paton

    I think you are right that the reason being excessively wealthy doesn’t bring more happiness is because the wealth becomes something in the background that you don’t even think about. A similar think happens with the weather. A lot of people in the North-East believes that they would be happier if they moved to California because of the weather. Research, however, has shown that people quickly adapt to any climate, so happiness would not in fact improve for these people if they moved to California.

    That being said, there are also some studies that indicate if you remind people about a positive thing in their life– like the weather, their wealth, or possibly location-independence– then they will get a temporary boost in happiness because these things move to the front of their thoughts.

    I think in general the problem is more about combating adaptation (by maintaining variety and perspective) than about crafting the right constraints.

    If you are wealthy you are going to have to think harder about how you are spending your money in order to add variety to your life. Likewise if you are location-independent in your work, you may want to try and travel more often so that you can constantly remind yourself of that fact. And, if you are fortunate enough to live in California, you would probably benefit by thinking about the beautiful weather more often.

  • Allen

    Logically I agree whole heatedly. I say logically because I have never been to the point of my life where I was not ‘hungry’. I am not in poverty, but I have always never had enough to really have ends meet. I do know however that at some point adding more money will not add to my life. However, my goal is not just to satisfy myself, but to change my whole family’s legacy. I want to retire my mother, I want my grandparents to enjoy the time they have left. I want to do something big, not for my own sake but for my family’s sake so my driving force is different from the average bear, and it takes more resources(money).

  • veronica

    Tiny biological look on happiness and money
    People are motivated by reward system in our brains. When we do something that benefits our existence our body rewards us with a dopamine shot in brains which makes us feel happy and satisfied. Eventually reward effect fade away and we are motivated to do the thing that brought us happiness again – so here is my theory: Rich people have less possibilities for happiness (generated with money) than middle class or even poor people. Reward system runes by motivation- you have to really want something and then get it to trigger the reward response. So if you have to save your money all month to buy yourself a chocolate bar this bar will bring you happiness, but if you can buy the same bar any time you want it will be just a chocolate bar with some extra calories you will have to burn later. But what happens when you have so much money to buy anything you want? When nothing is extraordinary to you? Your money can not bring you happiness then – not in materialistic goods anyway:)
    (P.S love the article)

  • KP

    Great Post.
    I would suggest you a casual reading about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

    http://faculty.vassar.edu/lowr

  • Vedang

    Hey Scott, great post here but I had a question for you. You mentioned that earlier in your life you had this goal of becoming a well known blogger and you’ve achieved that. You went after this goal with quite ferocity it seems. Do you think your journey here was more thrilling than, well everything else? I say this because personally I feel that having a goal and giving everything to try and achieve it is far more exciting and fun than actually achieving it. So wouldn’t the answer for all people be to simply just keep striving for something greater? In my opinion most people focus on the outcome of their goal, whether it become rich or whatever, far too much. I think that it would be better to just simply keep going after something greater. I don’t want to simplify this by just saying that if someone is rich they should try to become even richer, as I don’t pretend to know what rich people want. However it seems to me that working extremely hard toward a goal and acquiring all those valuable skills along the way is something that is far more rewarding and even fun than actually achieving that goal. This is just a very simple idea, feel free to criticize it, in fact I encourage it, I’d love to get your opinion and the opinion of anyone else out there. Thank you for reading.

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