Recently, I was talking to a friend about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Midway through the conversation, my friend remarked that Zuckerberg is "filthy rich".
Filthy rich—an interesting choice of words, I thought.
Why is it that we don't refer to wealthy people as "wonderfully rich" or "marvelously rich" or "delightfully rich"?
They're always filthy rich. Underlying this word choice are emotions of bitterness and disdain.
Many of us have negative feelings toward the rich, but is this justified? And have we reflected on the specific reasons behind these emotions?
I've come up with five reasons for these negative feelings:
1. We're jealous of rich people.
Rich people seem to have so much more fun and excitement than us.
When we see them with their yachts and sports cars, smoking cigars and enjoying lavish dinners, we can't help but think that their lives are simply better than ours.
We don't like to admit it, but—at some level—we're jealous of them.
2. We don't think rich people deserve their wealth.
Billionaires like Bill Gates and Donald Trump are legendary for their superhuman work ethic. Like most rich people, they've put in countless hours of intense effort in order to amass their wealth.
We recognize that many rich people might be more hardworking than us, but they're also 50, 100 or 1000 times richer than us.
Do they also spend 50, 100 or 1,000 times more time at work than us? Probably not.
At a subconscious level, many of us believe that wealth should be closely correlated to the number of hours we work.
Given that the super-rich are disproportionately more well-off than us, it's not unexpected that we think they don't deserve their wealth.
We might even believe that they're rich just because they're lucky!
3. We believe that most of our problems would be solved, if only we had more money.
Your kids aren't getting a top-notch education? If only you had more money, you could send them for expensive private classes.
Your boss is overbearing and unreasonable? If only you had more money, you could just quit your job.
You're struggling to make ends meet? If only you had more money, you could be debt-free today.
We think that the rich don't face many problems in life, because it seems as though money would solve most of our problems.
After speaking to several multi-millionaires, however, I now realize that rich people have their own issues to deal with:
- They wonder if people just want to get to know them because of their wealth.
- They don't trust other people easily.
- They worry about their wealth disappearing and about their businesses collapsing.
- Their relationships often become more superficial.
Money can certainly solve some of our problems, but it also creates others.
4. We assume that rich people must have done something unethical in order to accumulate their wealth.
We frequently hear about scandals involving money laundering and Ponzi schemes, and about how some people have struck it rich through such unethical means.
I think that in general, though, rich people are ethical.
Sure, they're probably savvier than the average person when it comes to using tax laws to their advantage, but the vast majority of them don't carry out immoral business practices.
5. We think that we could do a better job than them.
When we criticize the CEO or the senior management of our company for making poor business decisions, or when we condemn ministers and high-ranking civil servants for their lack of foresight, we unwittingly start to believe that we're smarter and more capable than them.
Is this actually true? Probably not.
I'm not saying that there isn't room for continual improvement in all areas of society. But I know for a fact that, although I often pass judgment on people in positions of authority, I wouldn't be able to perform their roles better than them.
But the main reason we shouldn't hate rich people is…
…that we're trying to become just like them.
After going through all of those reasons why we dislike—or even hate—rich people, we need to admit to ourselves that we would very much like to be "filthy rich".
Isn't that why we buy lottery tickets, invest in stocks, do financial planning, and apply for better-paying jobs?
David or Goliath: Who do you want to be?
It's similar to the story of David and Goliath.
Whether it's in the arena of athletics, business or politics, we often root for the Davids of this world—the small fry, the little guy, the underdog.
We cheer when the underdog comes out on top, when he or she achieves astounding success against all odds.
And besides, all of us feel that in some way we're Davids, that life hasn't been all that kind to us.
The irony is that we all want to become Goliath. We want to be people of influence, power and wealth.
We admire David; we aspire to be Goliath.
And that's why we shouldn't hate rich people, no matter how many valid reasons we can think of for why it's justifiable that we do.
I love this anonymous quote:
"With money, you can't win. If you focus on making it, you're materialistic. If you try to make it but don't, you're a loser. If you make a lot and keep it, you're a miser. If you make it and spend it, you're a spendthrift. If you don't care about making any, you're not ambitious. If you make a lot and still have it when you die, you're a fool."
Instead of focusing on accumulating wealth, let's focus on making a meaningful contribution.
After all, wealth is largely a reflection of how much value we're adding to the world.
Let's complain less and, instead, contribute more.
Let's pity ourselves less and, instead, prepare ourselves better to make the most of the opportunities we're presented with.
Let's compare ourselves with others less and, instead, commit ourselves to being the best that we can be—not better than other people.
Daniel Wong is the author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers a mentoring programme to help students to maximize their education and to find happiness and success. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-book, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here. Download his other FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here. Together with his team of experts, he conducts The Exam Excellence (TEE) Programme.