Fighting Fear

Confronting phobias and other fears

The Disadvantages of Being Very Rich

The grass is not so green over there.

Most people have heard that winning a lottery does not usually bring happiness. In fact, there are reports of people’s lives being disrupted permanently by the sudden possession of very large amounts of money. Most of us think deep down that that kind of problem could not happen to us.

 I have only known one person who won a really, really big lottery; and it went a long way to ruining his life. He had been a happily married man who worked at a delivery job with a number of other people who had become his friends. After winning the lottery he was elated for a time, but only for a while. He was told by his boss that he could not continue in his job because having a really rich guy around was “disruptive to morale.”  Indeed, his friends began to absent themselves. His wife continued with her routine and made no special effort to include him in her daily activities. Because he had a lot of money—and no job—he entered the construction business. He began to put up new homes. Most of the time, however, he found himself painting the houses more or less by himself. Every once in a while, to relieve the tedium, he went to Atlantic City to gamble. He began doing this for months at a time. Eventually, he met another woman on one of these trips; and his marriage broke up soon after. That was when I met him. He was unhappy. It was too late, unfortunately, to put the all the pieces back together again.

I had another patient who had built up a huge business after starting work as a teenager cutting grass. When he was fifty, he decided to treat himself to something—although he had trouble figuring out what. Finally, he built a very large house for himself, despite the fact that his only children were of college age and were spending very little time at home. He put up the house without a mortgage. But now he found that he could not have any of his friends over to the house. They were all blue-collar workers, or firemen, and he felt embarrassed by what they might think about his living so ostentatiously. So, he lost his friends.

But most of us think deep down that that kind of problem could not happen to us. In any case, we would like the opportunity to find out.

There have been a few times when looking over the shoulders of some very rich men, I was really glad not to be rich. I won’t count the men who could afford to have what amounted to two wives and two families. They had twice as many problems as the rest of us. One such person was a capo in a mob family. He was sometimes flush with money and sometimes broke; but he still had to keep up appearances with both families. I also won’t count the woman who had eight servants. She did not work, but she had to supervise eight servants! That was a full-time job. During the time I knew her, one of the servants ran away and disappeared, another one became pregnant by one of the other servants, although it was hard to figure out which one. And, of course they all got sick from time to time, so she had to arrange for someone to care for them.

When I think of the disadvantages of being really rich, I think of vacations and houses.

Vacations  One rich couple flew to the southern-most point of South America to look at the penguins, or the whales. It was very cold. I couldn’t imagine a less pleasant way of spending a vacation until I came across someone else who went north to see the polar bears mate. Apparently, all the bears get together every year in a particular place to enjoy each other’s company. Again, it was very cold. But the hoteliers who arranged this trip set up a very nicely furnished bus with a bathroom on each end. Every day, they flew up a gourmet meal for the guests who spent the rest of the day and night for a week watching the polar bears mate through big, panoramic windows.

 I would have gone crazy. I can see all I want to see of polar bears mating in about five minutes on the nature channel. These were both very expensive vacations, which, luckily, were beyond my means.

Houses  I saw two men coincidentally at the same time when they were building their new homes. Both were very rich and could build whatever they wanted. When you can build whatever you want and furnish it in whatever way you want—when money is no consideration—naturally, you want the very best. Or at least that is what their wives thought. The houses took forever to put up. One woman wanted the exactly right countertop and was dissatisfied with her choices even after travelling to Italy and points east. Another woman found a closet just a teeny bit too small and had to move a wall (which happened to be a supporting wall) and because of code violations had to move an entire bathroom a foot or so into the breakfast nook, which was now too small. I found myself feeling sorry for these guys. These were problems I did not have. I had to settle with the countertop of the house my wife and I bought. But it was okay.

There have been a few times when I thought I would like to have some more money, but not a lot more money. (c) Fredric Neuman 2012 Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog

Fredric Neuman, M.D. is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital.

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