Do rich people have it better?

Welcome to the post I've been writing for a while, and rewriting, which I've been asking people and thinking about for a long time: is it better to be rich? My short answer is yes.

Commentators will point out unhappy rich people and say, "See? Money doesn't buy you happiness." True. You can find happiness in various ways, and according to The Happy Person, written 30 years ago by therapist Harold Greenwald (which I read a while ago and am now re-reading), people can choose to be happy in any situation. But I'm not talking about general happiness or attaining it. I'm talking about the idea put in front of us that rich people are unhappy so it doesn't matter if you're rich. 

In the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter. But it makes life easier, and I suspect rich people have better social lives and more social opportunities. One time I wanted to ask a rich person if being rich means a better social life. But before I could even finish the sentence, he said "yes." He didn't know that I was asking about socializing; he thought that I was asking if being rich is better. And to that question he also said "yes."

Think about it: if you want to go to Europe for the weekend, you can. If you want to join a club, you can. If you want to buy a better car, you can. You can give your kids what they need: a safe neighborhood, dynamic activities that will help them grow, a good education, clothing, nice parties, opportunities including valuable contacts for jobs, and more.

But the problem is when there's money but no love or warmth or authenticity. Then people feel lonely and unhappy and isolated. They can buy whatever they want and fly wherever they want, but it won't matter because they don't feel accepted and safe, and it's like living alone in a hardened, cold cave. But the commentators will take those examples and downplay wealth, as if everyone who has money feels that way. But that's not true.

I've met people who have a lot of money who never have to worry about paying their bills. It's only the irresponsible who squander it and end up broke. But those who are smart (and there are many) live within their means, even if it appears to be extravagant. For instance, a rich person can buy a large beach house outright, but they realize they can't have one on every gulf and ocean. So they stop at one. Or they can fly first class every time, but they know that buying a private plane is stretching it. To the rest of us, even an apartment on the Pacific is too expensive, so we have to settle for one in a concrete jungle. But rich people do have their limits, it's just that they're broader than ours. 

And then there's the pursuit of money that can make people feel miserable. I'm not talking about people who need a job to get their basic needs and to get out of a shooting-filled neighborhood to be able to pay for a one-bedroom in a stable suburb. I've met people who are more than millionaires and they're neurotic and lack peace because they want what other rich people have and are envious. They work to acquire more but don't enjoy what they have nor what they can do with their money. But again, that's not every person I've met. There are lots of people who are living comfortably, paying for what their children need and want, and their concerns are academic because they have way more than they need.

I've met a lot of people who are just getting by and are stressed out, and understandably so. If they lose their job, they'll have to scramble to get another one to survive. If prices go up, they have to make decisions about what is most necessary. If their car breaks down, they have to be able to afford to get it fixed. When gas prices go up, they have to forfeit other necessities to be able to fill the tank. They want to be able to enjoy Christmas, nights out, weekends away, but they know they'll get into debt over it. Their lives are filled with decisions and sacrifices over basic needs and desires for luxuries that a rich person's pocket money can take care of with no problem.

Many years ago I met someone who made wise decisions and ended up pretty well off. She never had to worry about paying for anything, and she was able to pay people to help her as she got older. But she said some of her happiest days were when she and her husband were just starting out and they lived in a studio apartment, where she tutored students and her husband worked at a job that didn't pay a lot. She said life was so much simpler back then and she enjoyed it. I think she was just being nostalgic as she got older. Would she think the same way if she raised her kids in such a situation? She'd have a small space for her, her husband, and a few kids, enough money to pay the rent and some basic food but not much else, and a neighborhood with bad schools surrounded by decrepit buildings. They would've been stressed out and fighting about money, and complaining that they wanted their kids to be in better schools, have decent clothes and an infrastructure that had pathways to a brighter future. I was pretty young when I heard her talk about the good ol' days, and even back then I had my doubts. 

Last month, I was hanging out with some people at someone's house, and we had a great time. One person said what we were doing was worth more than being able to fly to Europe for the weekend. There was no money required for what we were doing, and while it's great to be able to afford a spontaneous European getaway, the fun we had was priceless. And there are other experiences like that: having the opportunity to be yourself in a judgement-free safe space, having fun doing what you love, helping people live with dignity, or just helping people.

The big news recently is that a super-rich woman gave a medical school a billion dollars so students can study for free. Imagine being able to do that for people. I know there are wealthy people who don't donate anything to anybody, just enjoy buying houses, yachts, cars, planes, and whatever else they want, but they're rich enough to have that choice. 

I know that money doesn't buy you happiness, but if someone is level-headed, that person can coast. Even professor Michael Blanding confirms More Proof That Money Can Buy Happiness (or a Life with Less Stress): less stress, greater control, and more satisfaction. 

p.s. the e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.

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