The Hardships of Being Rich

As a wealth manager, I deal with a lot of very wealthy people. Many of them will never have to work out of financial necessity, nor will their children or grandchildren. So they all must be happy all the time, right?
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As a wealth manager, I deal with a lot of very wealthy people. Many of them will never have to work out of financial necessity, nor will their children or grandchildren. So they all must be happy all the time, right?

On the contrary, I am often struck by how having money makes your life more difficult at times, particularly with regard to children. I have a client who had one child declare bankruptcy and another go to jail in the same year. They made the gut-wrenching decision to not bail either child out, even though they had the money to do so. Three years down the road, both kids now say that having to get themselves out of the situation on their own was a great lesson in the long run, but extremely difficult at the time.

The fact is that when you have money, it's a lot harder to say no to your children. The same goes for other family members. Maybe your spouse has a shopping addiction and buys items he or she doesn't need and never uses. Or your daughter constantly asks for money to invest in yet another business venture, after all the others have failed. What's the harm if you can afford it?

Having money sometimes allows people to not address problems they have, like addiction or overspending, or learn from their mistakes. It can turn up the volume on family disputes when family members know you could just write a check and take care of the problem.

Difficulties in family relationships and teaching their children values are not the only hardships wealthy people endure.

An article in Psychology Today, "It's Not So Easy to Be Rich", points out other challenges that rich people face. These include issues of trusting others who may just want access to your resources and the difficulty of knowing who your real friends are. Do they really care about you, or do they just hope to derive some benefit from your money? Others may begin to treat you differently and friends may become uncomfortable around you.

There is also the issue of experiencing other's jealousy, resentment and judgment. People can be harsh with those they envy and comment on their just being lucky or being a jerk. They may think of you as greedy, all consumed with money and having no real values.

There is truth to the concept that acquiring items that you didn't have to work as hard for have less meaning. Have you ever worked weeks or months to buy something you wanted? Maybe when you were young, you worked long days in the summers to afford that car you had your eye on. Do you remember how gratifying it was to finally go buy it? Driving to a car lot and just writing a check for any car you want isn't nearly as fulfilling.

And some people experience guilt about being rich. They may see others struggling and feel bad for them. As the founder of Maxim magazine Felix Dennis wrote in his book, How to Get Rich:

Let me repeat it one more time. Becoming rich does not guarantee happiness. In fact, it is almost certain to impose the opposite condition -- if not from the stresses and strains of protecting it, then from the guilt that inevitably accompanies its arrival.

There can also be a sense of isolation for the wealthy. Less well-off people tend to believe that the rich have everything, and they have little empathy with the struggles they face. It can be hard to connect with people on a real level when they don't believe you have challenges as well. And there's often no convenient community to discuss these issues without judgment. People think, "Why are you whining? You have all the money you need to fix any problem." This, despite the fact we all know that money doesn't fix everything. As Mother Teresa said, "I find the rich much poorer -- sometimes they are more lonely inside."

An additional challenge exists for those who grew up with money and never had to struggle to made ends meet. They often had difficulty finding meaningful work, and don't experience the opportunities for growth that those who struggle have. Most of us know that going through struggles in life is where we learn the most. Today's struggles are often tomorrow's lessons.

The clients who didn't bail out their children knew that. They knew those children would be better people for the struggle they faced. Rather than give them money, those parents gave them something much more valuable -- the chance to grow.

So yes, given the chance to be either rich or poor, most of us would choose to be wealthy. It's a good reminder, however, that even the wealthiest people have their struggles too.

David Geller is the author of Wealth and Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He is the CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors and is available for professional speaking engagements.