Over the years as I have volunteered for charity work which often necessitated asking for financial donations from wealthy individuals I have observed certain behaviors among them that have puzzled me. It seemed a predictable pattern emerge in their responses – they seemed primarily focused on their money rather than matters of the heart. Rather than being moved by the plight of others they often responded that ‘everyone has their problems.’ Was I simply being judgmental I wondered? Now the research is verifying my observations. So if you have always dreamed of being rich – thinking you would be happier – you may want to think again as you read this blog.
Many of us yearn for the day when life gets a bit easier financially – that’s understandable. Some, however, dream of being truly rich and think life would be so much easier, more fun and happier if they had all the money they could ever want. Well, the research proves the opposite. In fact, it verifies what many of us have heard or witnessed in the past – being rich is not the be all and end all as some may have thought. In fact, rich people are not happier individuals than those of us whose modest bank accounts require us to budget, plan ahead and save for a needed or special purchase be it a $50 or $500 dollar one.
Having a great deal of money changes people as demonstrated by Dacher Keltner at the University of California at Berkeley. For instance, the drivers of expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of others than drivers of cheap cars. These wealthy individuals also ignored pedestrians who had the right of way in a crosswalk 46.2 percent of the time! However, all the drivers of cheaper cars respected the rights of the pedestrians. Well, you might think to yourself, maybe it’s just a driving thing. Not so.
Wealthy people give less of their income – percentage wise – to charities, are more likely to shoplift, and are more inclined to cheat in games involving cash prizes. In another research study they even took candy from a bowl labeled ‘For Children’ more often than others of more modest means. What causes this type of hedonistic behavior?
To understand how money changes an individual a UCLA neuroscientist by the name of Keely Muscatell wrote a research paper that demonstrated how wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy. According to the research wealth “triggers a chemical reaction… it tilts the brain… and causes the individuals to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen…or even a happy one.”
Now the latest research findings from many other institutions are all indicating similar findings …money above a certain modest sum does not buy happiness – a fact that rich people are unable to wrap their heads around. When questioned, for example, millionaires felt that they would need 2 to 3 times more money to attain happiness! But all is not lost…rich people who are open to these findings can change regardless of the brain chemicals IF they choose to do so. Ahhh….that’s the question isn’t it.
When we look at the year ahead it would do us good to remember that practicing empathy for others is essential – for our own well being as well as others. That being grateful for whatever we have is vitally important and that ultimately being rich may open more financial doors, but often closes the windows to the soul. Something to think about.
Have a great few days!