Despair not 99 percenters, too much money is bad for you

Hands holding money

Who wants to be a billionaire?

You do. So does pretty much everyone else.

Having more money than you could ever spend would make your life easier and more pleasant.

You wouldn't have to work at a job you don’t like. You could pay someone else to rake your leaves and wash your clothes.

You wouldn't live in a small house -- you'd buy a castle with a heated swimming pool.

For a vacation, you'd invite your buddies to your own private island and have the butler bring you drinks on the beach.

That would be great for a weekend. But over a lifetime, it would probably destroy you.

I recently finished a work project that brought me in contact with some seriously wealthy people. The job was fascinating, and everyone treated me really well.

But despite their good manners, a deeper look into these people's lives suggests that, for them, money is a little like junk food. It tastes great, but it hasn't made them happier or healthier.

The people who made the money in the first place usually devoted every waking hour to accumulating wealth. They slept in their offices, spent every holiday at work and barely knew their families.

The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who inherited that money were born into a world where, for them, nothing really matters.

They're not doing well in school? No problem. They'll never need a job.

They argued with a friend or a spouse? They can buy another one with gifts, trips and other perks.

At first glance, it might sound great to never need a job or go to school.

But human beings are fundamentally lazy. We don't do well because we're virtuous. We do well because we have to, and along the way some of us grow into people you'd let your sister date.

We learn the real self-esteem of people who have skills. We set and achieve goals, learn to weather adversity, to fall down and get up again. We learn what matters and what doesn't.

All that trying and learning is what builds our lives. But it's not a painless process, so most people who can buy their way out of it do just that.

They don't develop many skills, unless you consider spending money a skill. They may not ever have the genuine satisfaction that comes from facing a problem and solving it with their wits.

Very wealthy people don't really know whether their friends and spouses love them for themselves or for their money, and they often run through relationships.

Because they don't have real-life skills, their children have a tough time learning how to navigate the world without using wealth as a cushion. In many cases, the parents are emotional children themselves, no wiser or mature than the progeny they're raising.

The circumstances of modest success, by contrast, are the life-skills equivalent of eating your vegetables. They're good for you.

My husband and I share a car, so we have to talk about where we're going and when and how high a priority that trip is as we negotiate the car's use.

In other words, our circumstances force us to be fair, friendly negotiators who have a solid sense of what's important to the other person. It's good for our marriage.

When we travel, we often stay with friends, most of whom live in similarly modest circumstances.

We can be pretty sure that those friends like us for ourselves. Our private island certainly does not seduce them, though my husband does make good pancakes.

Sure, there are a few people who turn great wealth into opportunities for philanthropy, invention or other pursuits that are good for them and for other people.

That's just another way of saying that they've found stuff that matters to them and made it a central part of their lives.

If you're strong enough to find purposeful work without any circumstantial pressure to get your act together, you might be a wonderful billionaire.

Such people, however, are few and far between. Enjoy the money you've got, and be glad for the financial realities that forced you to grow up.

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