Is it OK to want to be rich?

Money is a symbol of competence, omnipotence, and prestige

Admit it... Money is something we all think about. Money is a reality that impacts all of our lives.

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Common questions about money are:

  • Do you have enough of it? 
  • How can you get more of it? 
  • Does being wealthier make you happier?
  • Is money needed to achieve an enriching life

All these questions are often bandied about and are definitely intriguing.

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So, when I was asked to write an op-ed questioning if it’s all right to want to be rich, I eagerly dove into this infinitely interesting topic.

In the 1960s famed psychologist, Eric Fromm wrote a cult classic called "To Have or To Be." In this book, he described those who measure their worth by money and possessions were immature. The better-adjusted individuals, Fromm noted, didn’t have to equate their worth with money and acquired luxuries.

Even Sigmund Freud, "The father of psychoanalysis," wrote about our psychological relationship with money. Freud himself had difficulty talking about his own feelings toward money. He famously said, “Money is like laughing gas to me,” and did admit his mood was greatly impacted by his earnings.

You don’t need to be an analyst to realize that money is often considered a taboo topic to discuss, which makes it even more challenging to identify as a topic to debate. What are our own personal feelings about how much money we want versus how much money we should want?

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Some find talking about money terribly vulgar, while others find it off-putting and socially gauche.

Those who are wealthy have been described in a myriad of ways and not always positively. This further complicates what we allow ourselves to approve of what we want financially. At its worst, wealth is seen to cloud moral judgment.

Psychologists who study the impact of wealth on human behavior found money can influence our thoughts and actions in ways we are not always aware of. Several studies have found that having wealth can be at odds with having compassion and empathy.

Researchers at UC Berkeley did an interesting study with faux money in a Monopoly game. They found that even play money can get people to behave with less regard for others. They followed two students who played Monopoly. The wealthier player over time started to act aggressively, move his pieces around more brashly, took up more space and even started taunting the other player who had less money.

Wealth can cause moral entitlement.

Even just thinking about money can lead to unethical behavior. Research conducted at Harvard and the University of Utah found participants were more likely to lie or behave immorally after being exposed to money-related words.

Given all of these findings about the feelings we have about money and what it means to be wealthy, why would people want to publicly admit they want to be rich? Still, there are many facets to money: its uses, its ownership, and how it affects the human personality.

In itself, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be rich. In fact, it makes perfect psychological sense.

Money is symbolic.

It is a symbol of competence, omnipotence, and prestige. It offers us a feeling of security and satisfaction and accomplishment.

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There is also an evolutionary component for wanting to be rich. The richer we are, the more likely we are to survive and thrive. When one is rich, you are better able to have control of your environment. You can be less dependent on the goodwill and social approval of others. It allows you to acquire what you want with greater ease.

When you’re rich you may have fewer financial concerns. Having money means you can have more freedom and opportunities. Having wealth allows you to surround yourself with beautiful things and interesting experiences.

The rich can present themselves as refined and sophisticated. They can also share their personal aesthetics and taste with loved ones. Being rich can increase a sense of worthiness and self-importance and help you to feel valued for these accomplishments.

In our culture, being wealthy is associated with success. Some believe being wealthy can innoculate you against ordinary human suffering. For others, being rich means being able to care for those they love. Being rich can be perceived as contributing to one's family’s intergenerational wealth. Money can further a sense of generosity allowing the wealthy to donate to causes and charities that benefit others.

Given all these perks, why wouldn't people want to be rich? Still, as with most things in life, it’s very important to know the why behind your financial goals.

For example, what do you believe being rich will do for you? Will the pursuit of wealth interfere with your ability to be happy in the present? Can you treat yourself well if you feel you don’t achieve the riches you desire? And is there an understanding that there are different ways to be wealthy?

One can conclude that the desire to be rich is quite understandable. It’s just important to make sure to never lose sight of your values and who you are.

To do good, be good and do not make the pursuit of money the only benchmark of your value and success.

If you do this, then life can give you the best of all worlds.

Robi Ludwig Psy.D. is a nationally known psychotherapist, award-winning reporter, and author. She is a regular commentator on CNN, HLN, Fox Business. She was a relationship contributor for Investigation Discover Network's "Scorned" and is currently the creator and host of Facebook Watch's Talking Live with Dr. Robi Ludwig in Times Square. She is on the Medical Advisory Board and a contributor for Bella Magazine. Dr. Ludwig has a private practice on the Upper East Side in New York City where she also resides with her family.

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