Let's get it together, one stop at a time.
I recently saw Wolf of Wall Street, and besides making my stomach turn with anger and resentment at our financial industry and the luxury treatment of wealthy criminals, it made me re-evaluate my life goals once more. Just about every person I know would be thrilled to get a 25% raise, a reduction in their bills, or an end to income and sales tax. They would be even more excited to win the lottery and become a millionaire overnight.
Or would they?
Self-help books that focus on wealth creation assert that poor people don’t have money because of their mindset. They secretly hate the rich and are afraid of becoming ruthless and greedy like them. They’re overwhelmed by the responsibility inherent in inheritance. They’re frustrated about the potential requests for money and help from the less fortunate people around them. I believe that there is a bit of truth to this, because I’ve caught myself thinking that way several times. I thought that way after seeing this remarkable, provocative, nauseating movie. I also thought that way when I read that Robin Thicke and Paula Patton were separating after 14 years of dating, 8 years of marriage, and 1 child together. I have spent so much time wanting more only to be repeatedly disillusioned. If wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness, then what is the point of struggling and striving to attain it? I still do not have all the answers, but things are getting clearer as I get older and less concerned with trivial things. And believe it or not, some of the fringe benefits of having lots of money are purely trivial.
Robin Thicke was born with plenty of money, courtesy of his parents: ew-inducing yet wildly popular actor Alan Thicke and talented 80s theme show songstress Gloria Loring. As someone who must have always been accustomed to life’s most expensive accessories, it is shocking that he seems to have changed so much since his days of crooning odes to his wife’s awesomeness. This brings us to Truth #1: How much money you make does not matter as much as the difference between what you’re used to and what you have. If you are accustomed to living in a $800,000 home in Northern Virginia and are suddenly transplanted to a $7.5M estate with servants, things will change just as if you went from being homeless to living in an Adams Morgan apartment. Paula’s soon-to-be ex went from being rich and well-known to super rich and super famous. Truth #2 explains why that may have led to trouble in paradise: If the love of money is the root of all evil, then the love of fame is the root of all folly. How many times have we seen someone we love or a celebrity we formerly admired do something insanely stupid and then excuse their behavior as a plea for attention? Once your name is on everyone’s lips, you have to keep outdoing yourself and every other desperate falling star around you in order to stay a household name. Get married to a stranger in Vegas. Engage in Twitter wars. Televise your surgery. Grind on a girl half your age at awards shows. It never ends, and the stress of such a wild ride always puts a strain on relationships once the other person has had enough of the chaos and the “new you.” And lastly, Truth #3: Money is just like alcohol. Once you have more than you can handle, you turn into the ugliest possible version of yourself. Classical poets claimed that “in vino, veritas,” or in wine, there is truth. Ancient civilizations allegedly served wine at important meetings because they believed that it would be more difficult for a man to lie while under the influence. If you have ever tried to misrepresent the facts to a police officer while drunk, then you know this to be a fact. I’d like to claim that the same is true about money. It doesn’t change us into different people; it makes us bolder with our true characters, flaws and all. Even though there are countless benevolent members of the 1%, rich people are expected to be rude, shallow, and heartless because so many jerks who can’t be trusted with money become gazillionaires and immediately lose their minds.
I say all this to say that I am no longer going to long for a winning Powerball ticket or international infamy as if those are the only things that will allow me to live a full life. Aside from being able to help those in need and create good memories with those I love (which I can do now and am doing now), enormous wealth would not add anything truly important to my existence. I now hope for a balance between my expenses and my income that will allow me to focus on my loved ones and my dreams instead of constantly worrying about money. If that comes in the form of instantly being moved to the next tax bracket, I won’t complain. But I need to love myself and count my blessings in the present, because if I can’t do that now, I won’t magically be able to do that with another zero added to my paycheck. Robin Thicke, Jordan Belfort, and countless others are proof that no amount of extraordinary wealth will make you immune to ordinary problems.
Stop lusting after money, and start loving life as it is.