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Does Money Make You Mean?

2012 August 31

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. - 1 Timothy 6:10

money make you meanIn J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” – an interesting character named Gollum has a very scary obsession with the One Ring, which he calls “my precious”. He is so absorbed with the object and its powers that his life is consumed with the owning of it and to making sure no one gets it.

One Ring altered Gollum’s behaviour. When he didn’t have it, he became a weak and sorry creature. But, when he possessed it – it caused him to feel powerful and selfish. 

Bill Ward recently authored a fascinating article  entitled, “Possessed by Money” [StarTribune]. He interviewed a professor at the University of Minnesota (Kathleen Vohs) on some recent studies she’s done on what happens in people’s minds “in the context of wealth”.

Her findings showed that it wasn’t so much that wealthy people were the ones who became “mean” or “standoffish”. It was those who were constantly in the pursuit of wealth.

“We [found] that certain really wealthy people don’t think about money all that often,” she said, “and sometimes middle-class people think about money a lot and poor people think about money a lot. So it’s more like how much money is on your mind rather than whether you yourself have a lot of it.”

She also notes that money will tend to focus individuals too. This is certainly not a bad thing and an obvious point. If getting money leads you to a goal of – say – buying a home or providing for your family, this seems (to me) like an overall, healthy endeavour.

But, it seems like the more folks are constantly concerned with the possession of it (money) – and how to get more and more – the more IT possesses them.

Vohs found that – when money is in the environment:

  • People become less helpful to others.
  • People work hard and want to achieve goals on their own.
  • Painful experiences do not seem as painful.
  • People don’t mind being socially excluded.
  • People see social inequalities as acceptable.

Now these finding are sure to incite debate and cannot be generalized across all people. But what I have found in my own experiences and even personally – is that when I have set money as my main goal and motivator, I tend towards an intensity that can leave me with a tunnel-vision that lowers my sensitivities to those around me while elevating my awareness of what I want/need (above all else).

So, does money make you mean? I’m hesitant to blame money as the problem or anything else for that matter. I think there is something deeper at play here.

What say you?

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Helped start Three Thrifty Guys with his friends Charlie and Mark after being inspired by how they lived their lives “on the thrift”. A designer by day, Aaron was once $40k in debt. After 5 years – he dug himself out and lives to tell about it. Aaron also blogs at the StarTribune

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5 Responses
  1. Benoit Chartier permalink
    August 31, 2012

    Well, that’s a very important point you make there. I think that perhaps the problem is not so much the pursuit of money in itself, but the obsession with an object or idea. Everybody pursues something or other to create purpose and have something for which to strive. I believe money is one of those external pursuits which can be damaging when all else is ignored. The same could be said for hoarders, or overeaters, or anyone else who have an obsession for what they may perceive as being tantamount to the fulfilment of their personal happiness.

    • Aaron permalink*
      August 31, 2012

      Good thoughts Benoit. I think the psychology behind money – in particular – is a fascinating subject (because of the “inherent” value society has placed on it)

  2. August 31, 2012

    Money can make you mean & it can also make you miserable. I have a few ‘freinds’ who are obsessed with money making. We all need to make money but they just want more and more.
    I’ve watched them lose relationships with friends and even family members, all over a bit of money.

    I always try and keep those ruined relationships in mind when I find myself becoming too focused on making money.

    • Aaron permalink*
      August 31, 2012

      Money Bulldog – it def “helps” to see this played out in real life.. it’s ugly :(

  3. September 6, 2012

    Interesting article. Here’s another article to look into

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