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Opinion: Are you SURE you'd like to be a millionaire?

Whether through hard graft or pure chance, the life of the super-rich isn’t all rosy.

Ronan Kennedy

PEOPLE OFTEN SAY that they want to be rich or to be millionaires – and I’d like to challenge that.

Maybe they have already started and they are on their way. But when someone says it and they seem to do nothing about it, I wonder whether they want it that much. Are they working at a job where that’s possible? Or are they developing the skills and the abilities to make that a possibility in the future? If so, great! If not, why not?

If we’re not willing to do what is necessary to get what we want, can we really complain about not having it?

What are you prepared to do to make that cash?

A lot of business people, sports stars, artists and so on spend hours and hours each day for years to develop the skills that will hopefully bring them what they desire. Obviously this is not an easy path as it takes a lot of time, money and energy to get to that level. Some of them are successful and some of them aren’t. The important thing to remember about these types of people, is that often they become extremely wealthy as a by-product of doing what they love.

So, for them, it’s less of a big deal because they’re doing it regardless of the financial incentives. Simon Sinek makes the good point in his TED Talk that the people who do things only for the money typically lose interest in the activity once they feel that the cash isn’t there anymore. This type of attitude doesn’t do much to win people over to your cause – and also makes it really difficult for you to continue when you’re having hard days.

So if working really hard to get rich doesn’t sound too good, what about winning the lottery? Well, let’s think about that…

Who would you spend the money with?

More money will definitely give you more freedom and more power to do what you want, so who will you spend it with? A lot of us like to think that we’d spend the money with family and friends, but often that’s not always possible for various reasons.

Often, family and friends won’t have the same money and the same freedom to do all of these things. In that case, the simple solution is to give them the money. However, it’s well-known that a lot of lottery winners’ relationships with close friends and family become strained once such huge amounts of money become involved (as outlined in this Business Insider Article).

Even when winners agree to share the money with family and friends, there are usually still problems. A few people can feel left out for not receiving any; some people resent being given the money or feel inferior by accepting it; and others may feel that they should have received more. So it can be very difficult to get it right. It’s important to remember these things because, as we all know, our social relationships are so important. That’s why we need to be careful that money doesn’t interfere with them too much.

Social relationships are the single most important ingredient of happiness.– Daniel Gilbert, Social Psychologist, Harvard

We can often feel that it would be great to have endless money because it solves a lot of our problems. And while this is true at some level, I feel it’s important to remember that it solves some problems and creates others. So at the end of the day, we will always have problems – it’s just the nature of the problem changes.

The real question is: how much do I need to be happy?

You’re probably expecting a vague and unclear answer to that question. On the contrary! If you look at the results found in the Gallup poll that psychologists Angus Deaton PhD and Daniel Kahneman were involved in, you can see that they did find a correlation between people having enough money and being happy. Although they also found that having an income of more than $60,000 a year (for US citizens), didn’t increase their levels of happiness.

Below an income of 60,000 dollars a year for Americans (and that’s a very large sample of Americans) people are unhappy and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get… Clearly what is happening is money does not buy you experiential happiness but lack of money certainly buys you misery.– Daniel Kahneman, The Riddle of Experience Vs Memory, TED, 2010

So $60,000 a year for US citizens (that’s €48,000 approx) gives them enough to be as happy as possible but additional income doesn’t affect experiential happiness levels, according to Kahneman. However, I have to say that I don’t agree with him in terms of a lack of money buying you misery. There are plenty of people without a lot of money who are happy – they just don’t define their happiness in terms of money.

When we think about it, we can all clearly understand the difference between being ‘rich’ or ‘wealthy’ and having enough to enjoy ourselves. So I’m not saying that we need to earn nearly as much as €40-50k per year, but, even if you do, I think it’s beneficial to realise that there are other ways to feel good, too. The key is to start feeling really grateful for what we have now. I’ll explain what I mean…

Focusing illusion

Personally, I think that sometimes we’d like to feel super rich because we can easily fall victim to the “focusing illusion”. What I mean by this is that we focus on things in such a way that we feel like they’re a true representation of the real world.

For example, if we compare our lives to the lives of celebrities or famous people with lots of money, it’s easy for us to feel dissatisfied with what we have. And it’s easy to do this because they are in the newspapers and on TV so much of the time. So it can trick us into focusing on what we don’t have compared to them. But it’s important to remember that this is not an accurate representation of our world. The vast majority of people are not like that and don’t live like that.

In fact, 25% of all humans live without electricity – that’s approximately 1.6 billion people. And 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. So, there are two simple facts to consider every time you see someone on TV or in the magazines who seems to have everything, or when being extremely rich seems like it’s the norm.

Write three things that you are grateful for

Every day, write down three things that you are grateful for. Do this for one month.

In this way, you can change your focus from only seeing your problems to seeing everything you are grateful for, and this will help you to see the world in a different way. Or as Shawn Achor (a psychologist at Harvard) has suggested in his TED Talk (minute 11:01), this gives us a ‘happiness advantage’.

Your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed.– Shawn Achor, The Happy Secret to Better Work, TED, 2011

This works very well for many people, so it must be worth a go!

To conclude, the science confirms what many of us already know inside: that not having enough money will make things hard, but that having excessive cash will not make things much better – and, also, that the most important things in life are our family and friends. So it seems like the old saying is still correct, “the best things in life are free”.

Ronan Kennedy is a coach who works with people that are looking for motivation and direction in their personal lives or in their careers. Visit his website at www.ronankennedy.ie for more details about free online workshops and individual sessions. Follow his tweets @kennedyronan or on Facebook.

Here’s how much Christmas will cost you this year*

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