Money, A Useful Tool

Paul, a 55-year-old client, discussed his sexual problems freely. During the course of therapy, his uncle died, leaving a substantial inheritance. When I enquired about what the money did to his lifestyle, he bristled and was reluctant to talk about it. Money was more private, intense and personal than sex!

People lie, cheat, steal and kill for money. Families feud and split over money. People are irrational about money. I love what Bill Russell replied when asked what the huge salaries of basketball pros did to young men who were not used to wealth. Russell, whom I admire as a person and a great player, said that he sees money as a great multiplier. If you’re a nice person, then you become even nicer, and if you’re a jerk, you become a real disaster, Russell observed.

Why is money such a huge motivator? Right or wrong, people are evaluated by their wealth. I was startled when someone we all knew was discussed at a dinner party. “Poor Frank” was the comment about Frank who was doing time in jail for fraudulently cheating people out of millions. Frank, who was a nice and generous felon, had the sympathies of most of the people at the party. I, on the other hand, felt for his victims and thought the sentence was too short for someone who cheated people who trusted him. He was a rich dirtbag. Yet, the comments show how money raises perceived status.

My wife and I were guests of someone we knew since he was young, Victor. Vic, now very wealthy, hosted us at his bachelor’s house in California. It was wonderful—rare woods, light and spacious, fabulous Pacific views of Catalina Island and Los Angeles from high in the LA hills. He offered us a choice of his Lexus or Corvette while waiting for his Aston Martin to be delivered. During his tour, as he showed us his outdoor hot tub, amidst beautiful Japanese landscaping, he smiled and said the tub was, “A real panty-dropper.” Indeed, during the four days we were guests, he slept with three beautiful women. The same Victor admitted having difficulty getting a date when going to Plainview High School. It is hardly a secret what made him more attractive. Money does open doors and there is more we can do with money than without it.

Nevertheless, money is nothing more than a tool. It has no value itself. It is not worthy of the intense emotions it arouses. As with all tools, we must ask the purpose it should be used for. One purpose that most people agree upon is happiness. Money does get sex, things, status and luxuries. These are not trivial, especially compared to the struggles of many to put bread on the table.

However, does it buy happiness? Although research on happiness is murky, many believe that after a certain amount, money has no impact on happiness. One study compared happiness of million-dollar lottery winners with similar controls and found no differences in happiness. Indeed, the controls took more pleasures from mundane events. In my view, it is more important to like oneself than to like money. I have a hard time imagining people liking themselves if they lie, cheat, steal, divide themselves from relatives and kill for money. Indeed, studies indicate that spending on others makes us feel better than spending on ourselves. As a tool, money should be used to advance our personal growth, and not as something to be valued in and of itself. Especially in this economy, when so many people, including my close family members, are struggling financially, those who can might ask how their money advances the lives of others as well as their own.

Back to Victor. Even with his Aston Martin and many women, he was dissatisfied. Recently, he emailed me that he is now “monogamously married,” has a baby boy and has never been happier. It doesn’t take much money to accomplish that.

Illustration by Tom LaMothe