Loneliness After Sudden Wealth

After three decades of being employed as a flight attendant, Sandy Stein hit the jackpot at last. At the age of 53, Stein invented the finders key purse. This is a tool that hooks onto a handbag and makes it easy to get out your keys rather than having to dig for them. During that year, she was able to pay cash for a fancy car, hired her first employees and made $4m in sales. A dream scenario in a lot of ways. However, to Stein’s surprise, all the success led to loneliness at home. A divorce — her husband who had always been the main breadwinner grew resentful of Stein’s sudden success, she says. And several of Stein’s friendships were also strained.

People get jealous and say or do nasty things

While many people wouldn’t give up wanting the financial wealth, people who’ve experienced living the dream say it can be very isolating. And their lives in many cases look much rosier from the outside. “When someone suddenly becomes rich, the impact can be intense on each part of their life,” says Dr. Stephen Goldbart, who is the co-founder of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute. “It can be a painful psychological experience in some cases. ”It’s not difficult to begin to suffer from a “sudden wealth syndrome” and find yourself in a sort of identity crisis while at the same time you are dealing with loneliness and frustration.

Curse of the relationship

Many of us have had dreams of getting rich for years. But, in the case it happens, we’re often not prepared to deal with the sudden change in the behavior of the people around us. It’s basically not really something someone spends a lot of time on thinking about. So when friends become more distanced (or, on the contrary, cozier) and family seem to all of the sudden interfere in your finances or want to become more involved in your life, it will be a shock. “All this happens very fast and it’s hard,” says Goldbart.

Money changes people

And then, on the flipside, money changes people. In some cases the newly wealthy show behaviors such as reckless spending or all of the sudden disengaging from previous interests that can “create a gap” with friends and co-workers, says Megan Ford, president of the Financial Therapy Association. Friends may not accept the changes, and will move away. This will add to the loneliness, she says. Not being able to control the reactions of friends and family is often a very big hurdle. In many occasions, outsiders will try to intertwine their lives with newly-rich acquaintances. Friends and family show up and try to strengthen ties to somebody they now consider to be a winner, Goldbart says. And what to do when friends and family begin to treat you differently? In most cases, we would feel suspicious. Where were they when you were working at your day job or spending countless hours working on a start-up business? Naturally, people draw back and tighten their circle of friends when they are not totally sure who is sidling up to them just because they’ve become rich. “Their world gets very small and they will retreat to friendships with people in the same position financially,” he says.

It becomes hard to decipher who is genuine

This feeling doesn’t necessarily disappear after you’ve got money and success and it’s stable. Recognizing who truly wants to be your friend gets harder — and getting it wrong a couple of times normally has the expected effect — more isolation, explains Ford. “It can be very hard to decipher who is true and who is trying to ride the coattails,” she says.

To live the dream

People with newfound wealth mention the feelings of loneliness come from changing priorities as well. Stephan Goss, a Swiss transplant to San Diego, says he started to look for new friends with the same freedom to live their life. “Most people are not able to say let’s go on a vacation to Brazil tomorrow. It ends up being difficult to spend time with people who don’t have the means to do that”. This all of a sudden wealth experience seems to have less of a destabilizing effect on people who are a little older. While Goss hasn’t left the childhood friends he made while growing up in his home country and at university in the US, he will now spend more time with other entrepreneurs.

Even though it wasn’t the case for Stein, the sudden wealth experience seems to have a less destabilizing effect on people who are a little older and who have spent more time in the workforce, for a large part because other people around them expect older people to get more wealthy at that age, Goldbart explains. Stein’s strained relationships did not improve, but she’s learned to build new relationships. Stein now works with a core staff of five people and mentions she has built more intense and trustworthy connections with her employees. Over time, she started to realize who her real friends from her flight attendant days are — and has been generous to them. One of her favorite experiences is taking one of her best airline friends on a polar bear expedition. “To be able to do this has made me very happy,” she says.

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