by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I’ll never forget chatting with a woman in a social setting some years ago: She and her husband were billionaires. She wore diamond earrings that could have knocked out a cat in free fall. The budget for the estate they were having built was in the 50 million dollar category… yet I wouldn’t have changed places with her for the world.
Her drug addicted, behaviorally disturbed son had just run away from a treatment center. All the money in the world could not protect her from the living hell of parenting a self-destructing child. This experience was a real reminder to me about what is actually important (the health and wellness of those we love), versus what I find myself wishing for (a Japanese garden complete with Koi pond, for instance).
It’s so easy to tell ourselves stories about money, fantasies that center around the theme of “if I had more money I could do this and have that and life would be so great.”
Yet lottery winners, one of the few insta-rich, something-for-nothing examples in our society have a nasty habit of suddenly dying from heart attack. Single people who come from family wealth often hide the fact from others, fearful of being used for their money instead of liked and loved for their true self. The plethora of choices that abundant money presents can paralyze and tear apart relationships: witness how according to stress measurement scales, a remodel is as stressful on a marriage as an immediate family member’s death.
Somehow deeper, more important and more universally available attributes such as kindness, calmness, a sense of humor, generosity and creativity fail to inspire the urgent cravings that perfect breasts or a Rolls Royce do. I’d love to hear someone say they are jealous of another person because the other guy is so kind.
From a mental health perspective this is like grabbing for holographic pennies while stepping on real dollars. We cannot all be stinking rich, or be lifelong beauties like Sophia Loren. There is only so much room on the zenith of any mountain and a few names pretty much occupy the top. Financially and physically, most of us are relegated to living and dying somewhere below the top and above the bottom.
So where should we invest our focus instead? Here’s a heretical notion: How about thinking obsessively about the areas we can actually impact? Focus on the things where interest and effort can result in improvement for everyone. For instance we can all enhance the quality of our lives by striving to improve our communication skills, being willing to try new things, working towards an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, by cultivating gratitude and generosity.