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Thoughts on Our Misguided View of Wealth and Happiness

The tragedy at UC Santa Barbara has me thinking about wealth and happiness.  In case you aren’t aware, Elliot Rodger murdered six people on the UCSB campus last week in a pre-meditated act of rage.  Rodger was tormented by his inability to find happiness, primarily because he was unable to attract women.  As he grew older Rodger became convinced that the only way to attract women and obtain the happiness he desired was to become wealthy.  He said:

“If I become a multi-millionaire, I would be able to walk on the beach with a beautiful girlfriend too, and my life would be complete.”

The case of Elliot Rodger is unique as he clearly suffered from some psychological disorder, but I do think that the aforementioned view is not an uncommon one.  Unfortunately, I think it leads a lot of people astray.

I got into finance for one simple reason – I thought finance was where the money was.  And I was convinced that if I made a lot of money then I would become happy.  I don’t really know why I thought this, but my guess is that it’s something we’re convinced of simply by viewing our surroundings.  We live in a society that covets things, consumerism and puts the wealthy on a pedestal.

Now, “happiness” is a tricky concept.  There is no universal “happiness”, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a career in finance it’s that mistaking “wealth” for “happiness” is almost certainly wrong.  And the assumption that money necessarily leads to happiness is also wrong.  We need to stop equating money with happiness.

When we think of money we should view it merely as a medium of exchange.  It can give you access to certain things and it no doubt makes life easier.  After all, we reside in a monetary economy and if you can’t generate an income then you will struggle to acquire even the most basic necessities.  But that doesn’t change the fact that money is little more than a tool that can give you access to certain things.  In this regard, money is a means to an end, but should not be confused with THE end.

I fear that the growing mass promotion of wealth and opulence is leading many to believe that money can solve problems it really can’t.  I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think I am.

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