Happiness in Wealth:
Breaking the Chains of the Wealth Inheritor
By Bobby Keough
June 12, 2018
Money doesn’t bring happiness; it’s a saying that has existed for quite some time, and has stirred much debate, but one thing that seems to never be discussed is what about those that have money thrust upon them, those that are born into it? If money doesn’t bring happiness then it must bring burden, but what are these burdens and how is one to deal with them? While at first glance being defined as wealthy sounds positive, the responsibilities and expectations associated with this title can weigh heavy on a person, especially one born into and raised in this position. As a wealth inheritor it can be a battle to fully grasp the role of money. Always having and being surrounded by wealth can give a warped perspective on its purpose, either undervaluing it all together or placing it on too high of a pedestal. On the one side, always having access to money can leave someone seriously taking its value for granted, causing them to spend it frivolously on unnecessary things draining their assets over time, sometimes simply to fit into the way they think society expects them to act or to impress their peers and maintain a certain image. On the other hand, growing up surrounded by wealth can lead one to be consumed by it, thinking it truly is the most important thing, putting it above everything else, sacrificing relationships and happiness to the never ending pursuit of more. Each side, while opposites, hurts the wealth inheritor in the same way, causing them to lose their sense of self and identity to the wealth that they have, thinking it is their only defining trait.
It effects just more than one’s own internal behavior though and extends to their ability to perceive others. Trust is very hard for someone with money to have, especially someone who has always had wealth. Every interaction with another human becomes one of doubt, questioning whether the motives are genuine or simply someone trying to take advantage of your position. From business relationships, “Did they really give me the best deal they absolutely could? Do they actually want me on the board for my brain or just for my money?,” to personal ones, “They only seem to come over when I invite them out on the boat. Do they really love me for me, or just what I give them?,” a wealth inheritor second guesses every encounter they have. Unfortunately, this self-doubt carries beyond business partnerships and old friendships to something even deeper, family. This lack of trust in others can cause for terrible communication amongst a family. With everyone in the family having wealth, everyone is shy to trust each other, causing a giant circle of indirect communication. Passive aggressive comments and the need to keep secrets from one another can boil up into a disaster, often tearing families apart, which becomes more complicated when other members of the family are actually the ones in charge of your access to the money. It is much harder for a child to speak against what a parent may be doing if that child’s entire livelihood rests in that parent’s control, versus a struggling family who all works together as a team to make sure they have enough money to keep the lights on. While obviously no one wants to be poor, having everything from the start can create a family dynamic that relies far less on team work, which requires direct communication, and more on manipulation.
If one comes from a controlling family, feeling that they can’t even trust some of their direct blood members, then it may also be hard to understand how to give back and participate in the community. It can be hard to come to terms with why it may be necessary to do things for others without a direct benefit to yourself when you’ve grown up in an environment of expectations that’s caused you to feel you have to tackle the world on your own, but this is actually a key to escaping these burdens. Figuring out how you fit into the puzzle of society, pursuing your interests rather than your expectations, is the first step to breaking away from these chains of wealth and finding happiness as following one’s interest requires a counteraction of these previously mentioned burdens. Recently at a Family Office Association event, Charles Lowenhaupt told a story that completely sums up this idea. He told the story of a conference he went to once where he spoke to a young woman. When he asked the young woman why she was there she responded by saying that her family wants her to take over their hedge fund investing and sent her to the conference to learn more about them. Unfortunately it seemed this woman had very little interest in the topic and was there out of obligation. As she got to talking to Charles she became more and more fascinated in what he had to say, clearly displaying a passion in his topics. Charles asked her to come to his panel, but she reluctantly replied that she couldn’t as it was at the same time as the hedge fund panel she was sent there to listen to. Here we see a real life example of someone’s happiness and interests being hindered by the responsibilities and expectations associated with her wealth. Chasing one’s dreams is easier said than done however, as with generational money there is still the issue of how the older generation should provide it to the youth. Should they just hand over never ending piles telling the child to go out and just do whatever they want? It is a responsibility of the parent to help encourage not only the chase of one’s interest, but setting the example of the value of money to allow for interests to even be discovered. Some parents hand over too much wealth, depriving the child of the chase, while others are on the other end, holding the money too tightly thinking that the child will then have no choice but to chase, leaving them with no money to fund the chase. It is an even balance of this spectrum that allows for a wealth inheritor to flourish; money can’t be presented on a silver platter from day one as it will lead to that wealth inheritor never having a need to develop an interest, but still provided with money to pursue their interests and make mistakes. It is the journey in life that provides happiness, not the end game, so the key is to provide enough money to allow for the journey, but not so much that the journey seems completely unneeded.
So how exactly does pursuing one’s interest counteract these burdens, or in Charles Lowenhaupt’s words, provide “freedom from wealth.” Well, one must properly value money to be able to apply it correctly to chasing their interests, and needs the ability to trust others and to establish relationships to pursue these passions, but without proper communication in the family one may never discover the interests to begin with. Happiness can be found in wealth, not from the lack or pursuit of it, but rather the ability to co-exist with money in a way that allows you to use to wake up every day doing something that drives you forward.