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Prosperity’s Pitfalls

Jonathan Clements  |  January 14, 2017

IS IT POSSIBLE to have too much money? This falls firmly into the “nice problems to have” category. Still, imagine you’re the lucky recipient of a winning Powerball ticket or a rich aunt’s bequest. You might find yourself grappling with three threats to your happiness.

First, you could quickly get used to the finest things in life, with no prospect of ever enjoying anything better. If you’re occasionally upgraded to first class, it’s a treat, because you can easily recall the indignities of economy. But if you always fly first class, you’ll take it for granted and it won’t seem special. Gone from your life will be the pleasure of an improving standard of living.

That brings us to a second, related problem: Because you could afford pretty much anything your heart desires, each item you possess will likely have less perceived value. Let’s say you own a single piece of art. Each day, you might catch a glimpse and feel a surge of appreciation. But if you have fine art on every wall, each painting will receive only a sliver of your attention, if you notice them at all—and the abundance may downgrade the joy you receive from the entire collection. Admittedly, modest pleasure from lots of art could be worth more than great pleasure from one or two pieces, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

Third, all that money will give you endless choice. But too much choice could leave you with a gnawing sense of uncertainty. Am I squandering the financial freedom that I have? Would I be happier if I were doing something else? As you wrestle with these questions, you may discover that instead of enjoying life, you’re agonizing over how best to live it.

Related: Nine Simple Strategies for a Happier Life

Related: Jonathan’s Story: Five Takeaways from Happiness Research

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