Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lure of the Lifestyle

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Money often costs too much.” 

Our society boosts people into thinking that wealth accumulates and extrapolates endlessly. Borrowing is based on that misconception. Don't pay cash, when you can borrow and the interest is tax-deductible.

When buying a car, many consider only the lease payments, not the price. If you can make the monthly payments, why not buy a boat? Then, monthly payments on the house, the car, the boat (and other accumulated possessions) become part of your fixed commitments that you must earn.

In reality, most assets depreciate, while expenses and liabilities (including interest) mount mercilessly. Many ambitious people go bust quickly because they don't seem to understand these simple truths. They simply succumb to the lure of the lifestyle.

Wealthy Wannabes

There are those who believe that they can get rich if they want it bad enough. (1) They think that’s life is all about living in a big house with rooms you never go in; it’s about buying expensive cars; it’s about spending ten thousand dollars for a Rolex wristwatch – so that others will see it and wish they had one.

I know one guy who lives in a relatively humble, rented apartment but has a luxury car and spends $25,000 a year to play at a tennis club. When I suggested that he could play tennis in any one of several no-cost local venues, he insisted, "You have to live the lifestyle to meet the right people. My friends all see my car, but no one knows where I live!" (2) (3)

I know another lifestyle junkie, a regular ballet buff and operagoer. I asked whether he really liked ballet and opera and his response was, “Not really, but the rich go there and I like to mingle with them”.

The same guy had another expensive habit: valet parking. When the valet service is free, he still tips the valet ten dollars. It’s the same wealthy-wannabe predisposition. On one occasion when we met for lunch, the parking lot was largely empty, so I parked right next to the front door; my friend drove up and grandly handed his keys to the valet. After lunch, we came out together and I drove off right away while my friend waited impatiently for the valet, who was nowhere to be seen.

Big Hat – No Cattle

Now, I don't feel particularly miserly, but I really don't understand the rationale of the luxury lifestyle. In fact, I remember the remark of a guy who ignored the champagne at a fancy reception and asked for a beer. "Hey!" he said, "I'm rich enough to drink what I want, not what looks good."

These days, when I see somebody posturing beyond their means, I remember a Texas cattleman's wisecrack: "Big hat, no cattle!"  This was the name of a song by Randy Newman. (4)

Pursuit of Wealth

Many who are pursuing wealth seem to me to be trapped in a life that's somewhat unfulfilling, because they've traded doing what they'd really love to do for the lure of the lifestyle. (5)

In western cultures today, happiness is conceived in monetary terms; aspiration to wealth is confused with achieving happiness. The more money gained, the more material objects acquired, the closer one is to reaching this most enviable of goals. Ironically, materialistically pursuing happiness is a goal that can never be achieved.

The TV program called WealthTV (the name has now changed to AWE – A Wealth of Entertainment) tries to make advertisers believe that primarily wealthy people watch their programs. (6) They promote the idea that their viewers are highly educated people who make over “$100,000 dollars a year have a high household value and are high spenders with elite buying power.” They claim that their typical viewer is “50% more likely to be affluent empty nesters than the average.”

Money ≠ Happiness

Everyone knows the saying, "Money can't buy happiness.” Psychological research demonstrates that when people organize their lives around the pursuit of wealth, their happiness can actually decrease.

One common finding of many "happiness" studies is that money itself (income, consumption, wealth) is only one component in measuring overall well being. (7) After reaching a threshold where basic needs are met, material factors diminish in their ability to deliver individual and collective happiness.

Psychological research shows that individuals who say that goals for money, image, and popularity are relatively important to them also report less satisfaction in life, fewer experiences of pleasant emotions, and more depression and anxiety. Similar results have been demonstrated for a variety of age groups and people around the world. In addition to problems with personal happiness, research suggests that striving for affluence also hurts social relationships and promotes ecologically destructive behavior. (8)

Resetting Priorities

What has the pursuit of money cost you lately? Your daughter’s birthday party? Your son’s ball game on weekend? Missed wedding anniversary? It’s much easier to be rich monetarily than have a rich family life. We know which is far more important, but that is often sidetracked in the pursuit of wealth. (9) (10)

Working towards endless pay increases and promotions ties a person to keeping a job they don’t really enjoy. For many, losing a job can be the best thing that every happened. It forces people to reset their priorities. It's the catalyst needed to re-focus on the important things in life - health, personal relationships, growth and contributing to others in meaningful ways. (11)

If money is costing you and your family too much, consider cutting back on luxuries or even finding a new job or field of employment. Give your family what money can never buy – treasured time with you. Which reminds me of the lyrics of Harry Chapin’s song, “Cat’s in the Cradle”. (12)

Measuring Personal Success

In our society, it doesn't even seem to matter how people acquire their wealth. As long as they've got it, they are perceived as being "successful."

Sometimes we take other accomplishments into consideration. But success only seems to be credited to those who have generated wealth. It’s odd that achievements, no matter how great, tend not to be noticed when financial gains are not attached.

We know the answer. It's not money.(13) We should start changing the definition of success and start adding new measurements to determine how being successful can also mean being happy at the same time, without measuring wealth. This could change our whole sensibility surrounding work and life.


The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, said:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”


  1. The Wrath of the Millionaire Wannabe’s:
  2. How to Look and Smell Wealthy:
  3. Harnessing the Power of Wealth Envy:
  4. Big Hat – No Cattle – song by Randy Newman:
  5. The Pursuit of Wealth:
  6. Do wealthy people actually watch Wealth TV?
  7. The Pursuit of Happiness – Or the Quest for Wealth:
  8. Life, Money, and the Pursuit of Happiness:
  9. Resetting Priorities:
  10. Family life sacrificed to the pursuit of wealth:
  11. Losing Your Job Might Be The Best Thing:
  12. Harry Chapin song – Cat’s in the Cradle:
  13. Measuring personal success: 
Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, California, USA
29 January 2015


  1. Smiling as you hit the nail Squarely Real again, Jim. Wow.
    Many thanks and blessings.

  2. People who say that money does not buy happiness don't know where to shop.

  3. Good knees and good food help make one healthy provided energy is expended in the form of Dance. Those of us really wealthy folk are dancing, laughing and enjoying just enough income to get by and still get out. Good planning and good friends top off the wealth plate which is now overflowing. Chase Health, not Wealth.

  4. True wealth is liking what you do,
    and doing what you like when you like to do it,
    with the people you like to do it with.
    The rest is window dressing.

  5. “Money often costs too much.”
    This reminds me about the Greek situation... This people (or some of them) do live over their budget since they are free from the osman kingdom.
    The question is if they are really happy - living (in general) from money others (other people) did work hard for.
    The new socialist government there now supports this attitute.
    Did you know: in kaptialism men are exploited by men - in socialism it is vice versa!
    So being wealthy is quite relative.
    Thanks Jim - again a hot thematic.

    1. Hans: Thanks for your regular blog responses!

  6. If the goal is monetary wealth, you will have far more sorrow than joy. Do what you love, stay in the moment and you will be blessed.

    We live in a world upside down: Teachers earn $70,000. Basketball players $7 million. Clever folks on Wall St who can shuffle digits at millisecond speed and make pennies on millions of shares can "earn" $100 million. And they are taxed at 15%.

    Achieving great wealth through clever gimmicks perverts the soul of the individual and tears at the fabric of our economy. Not good.

  7. Via Facebook, Larry OBrien posted this response - you've gotta see it!

    The Money Song - Monty Python's The Flying Circus

  8. Many studies show that happiness (given that health and the basic needs of life are OK) is strongly related to 2 things:

    1. People: The size and strength of your personal friendship group.
    Having good friends makes you happy.
    2. Wealth: In relative not absolute terms - being well off compared to most of the people round you.

    If, as you get richer, you start mixing with wealthier people, you don't get so much enjoyment from your riches.

    Simplistic, maybe, but I believe there is evidence out there to support it.

    1. John :

      Thank you for your insightful response.

      Yes, I have seen many very rich, very unhappy people.


  9. Kermit Fischer, founder of Fischer and Porter (acquired by Bailey thence ABB) published "Fourteen Points to Guide Executives" -

    #14 States

    "If you haven't figured out yet that the size of a man's car or home, the affluence of his friends, the number of his clubs, the price of his wife's fur coat, and the title on his door have nothing to do with his intrinsic worth, and these things mean more to you than a job quietly done well and the wisdom and spirituality acquired - then you don't belong here" Kermit Fischer

    Jim great piece

    1. Mr. Thompson, do you know where i can read the Fourteen Points to Guide Executives?