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A recent survey by Forbes found that 37 percent of the four hundred richest Americans are unhappy. According to Steve, there’s much truth in the old saw that money can’t buy happiness. “Money can’t make you happy, but it can make you more unhappy,” he says. In fact, psychologists have coined a term, affluenza, to describe a wide range of symptoms that can result from sudden wealth, including shame, anger, fear, guilt, and rampant materialism. Affluenza, sudden wealth syndrome, or whatever the diagnosis, the condition of being instantly rich can have profound consequences, not only psychologically but also socially.
Steve discovered that his good fortune meant acquaintances and friends soon began asking for loans or “investments” in their businesses. He found that normal conversations he had had in his “preluck” life were now emotionally charged land mines, forcing him to filter his words. “In the past, if one of my friends got a new car, it was naturally a topic of conversation,” he recalls. “But now, if I talk about a new car, it’s bragging.”
Similarly, Steve found it difficult to maintain some of his former hobbies, because his newfound wealth was always a topic of con- versation. “I used to really enjoy playing competitive pool, and I played in some tournaments,” he says. “But now, people say, ‘Why is he playing? He doesn’t need the money.’ So I don’t compete any- more. Simple things just become much more complicated.” While he maintained his close friendships, other people became standoffish and, eventually, drifted away.
Indeed, psychologists have found that, while acquiring a vast sum of money can make life easier in many ways, it often makes personal relationships much more difficult. “A flood of economic power can be really destabilizing to your sense of personal balance,” says Mark Levy, a California psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. In particular, those who are not born into wealth but rather acquire it through luck (the lottery, the stock market) or other means (business success) often lack the skills necessary to manage money, not simply financially but in their relationships as well. Coming into money will also fundamentally test the basis of relationships, many experts say, and will quickly make bad or unhealthy relationships worse.
Steve continually encountered friends and even slight acquaintances who asked to borrow money, and he mostly obliged them. He estimates that “99 percent” of them came back for more. “At the beginning, you just have no comprehension of the power you have, the responsibility that comes with having so much wealth,” he says.
From the Hardcover edition.