The problem with making money

The problem with money is, the more we have, the more we want. Contending that the mindless pursuit of wealth simply contributes to a mortgaged life, INSEAD's Manfred Kets de Vries argues that we need to relegate its importance and invest in alternative values to feel genuinely rich.

by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

He begins by exploring the role money plays in our lives, including its symbolic significance both for children and adults. Through conversations with money-driven executives, he has come to recognize the degree to which they are driven by dark, competitive forces. Such forces, he finds, often have their origin in childhood experiences of financial deprivation or sibling rivalry.

Ironically, he notes, the acquisition of wealth is likely to create in us an even greater sense of dissatisfaction. Frequently, the price we pay for our need for power, security, love and victory over others through money is our liberty. In the quest to achieve total financial empowerment - the 'fuck-you money' of the title - we become slaves to the pursuit of wealth.

Where children are concerned, he observes, having too much money can erode a sense of security, self esteem, self motivation, and the ability to form close relationships. For adults, money may buy material comforts and social status but it can't buy love, youth or lost health. The mindless pursuit of wealth can eclipse the real meaning of life, and the finer human qualities that enrich our experience of it.

In seeking to explain why, in the quest to make money, we so often fail to make ourselves happy, the author pinpoints a series of intangibles that seem to be of much greater importance on life's balance sheet: creativity, effort, unity with nature, a sense of job satisfaction or usefulness, and the intimacy of family relations, among others. It is our personal capabilities and our willingness to share time, energy, passion and intimacy that are our greatest assets, not our possessions.

Ultimately, he asserts, we need to match our compulsion to make money with a greater awareness of the risks and the opportunities that it can bring in our lives. Citing the wisdom of the ancient philosophers, Professor Kets de Vries makes a convincing case for changing our needs system, modifying our desires, and freeing ourselves of material wants.

Above all , we must learn to give money away - to put it to work for the common good. As billionaire John Paul Getty put it: "Money is like manure: you have to spread it around or it smells."

Making sense of 'fuck you' money
Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
INSEAD Faculty & Research Working Paper

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