The ills of affluenza

I suspect Bollywood is already working on a script based on the tragic deaths of Ponty and Hardeep Chadha. It's so cinematic; rags to riches, rapid acquisition of massive wealth and properties, family feuds, seven-star farmhouses, powerful connections, bodyguards and goons on call, shady underlings, unlimited access to deadly weapons, a gunfight between brothers and a blood-spattered denouement. Ram Gopal Varma would be salivating at the prospect. Yet, the events, which left two billionaire families orphaned, are really a contemporary parable and contain larger lessons about the acquisition of sudden, staggering wealth by people who were once struggling to make ends meet.

Psychologists who studied the effects of wealth on behaviour have found, generally speaking, that money and happiness do not go hand in hand. This is more true, they say, for people who become overnight millionaires, a phenomenon that psychologists Joan DiFuria and Stephen Goldbart call "sudden-wealth syndrome". Today, people are rated by their wealth, not by their virtues or behaviour. Most research on subjects like lottery winners have shown that a quick transition from near-poverty to riches is seldom made without problems. Possession and acquisition becomes paramount, from mansions to luxury cars, designer clothes, shoes and other accessories of the affluent, everything will generally be in excess. Much of it is for show and every gratification is exaggerated. Conversely, what is defined as "affluenza" becomes a show-and-tell life, artificial and way beyond what is really needed to make people or families happy.

In his 2006 book, Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile, psychologist Daniel Nettle found that sudden riches are quite stressful and tend not to impact baseline happiness levels in positive ways. He showed that after the initial euphoria of being able to lavishly spend without worrying about bank balances getting over, there is no correlation between more money and more happiness. Happiness, research proves, comes from creating meaningful relationships in your life and doing what you love.

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