Does Money Make You Mean?

dollar bill

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

In 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.

money make you mean

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.

Does money possess you?

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.

Here's another talk on how feeling wealthy can make you mean, by Paul Piff

What say you?

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  1. I have a few friends that are wealthy, not just having a few million like me but having a few hundred million and in one case having a billion dollars plus. They are my age and I’ve known them for many years and have run many early morning miles with them. They are very kind and very generous people. I’m convinced that they are among the best people I’ve ever met and have done more good in this world than most of us will ever aspire to. One other billionaire I used to work for, he was on Forbes 200 richest American’s list at one time, dead now, kept one of his companies running for fifteen years even though it lost money every year because he wanted every single truck driver in the company to retire before he shut it down. And very few people knew the story but I was high enough up in the company to be privy to that information. I’m convinced that as a group ultra wealthy people are more generous and often do much of their giving in stealth mode because they do not seek credit for what they do. People like me that are moderately wealthy, we are probably average in every respect. It may be the people who are focused on the goal of achieving wealth rather than those who have reached it and no longer are striving that have the most trouble?

  2. What I’ve seen is that people with a lot of money can often be more arrogant and can look down on people with less money. I’m not sure if that’s mean, per se, but it definitely can create an ‘I’m better than you’ attitude which I think can be along the same lines as being mean.

    • I agree. There seems to be a superiority there in many people of wealth.

  3. 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.

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

  4. 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.

    • 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)

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