In the recent film “All the Money in the World”, Mark Wahlberg’s character, Fletcher Chase, asks J. Paul Getty how much it would take to make him feel secure. The answer…“More!” It was an odd statement from ostensibly one of the richest men in the world at that time. Based on a true story, Getty’s grandson has been kidnapped (one he’s particularly fond of) and the ransom demand is $17 million. Getty won’t or can’t bring himself to part with the money even though we’re certain that he has it.

In recent articles, we’ve explored the idea of money and happiness and how it may or may not ‘buy’ happiness. What are we really looking for from our money? As Fletcher Chase also says, “It’s usually not about the money, but something else.”

More money to feel secure?

We all have our own beliefs about money. Some of them serve us well and some do not. Being a lifelong saver my default mode is to not spend. It can be a challenge for me to spend money on myself – especially if it is a large amount. Watching this film, what I realized about myself is that I would have responded as Getty did to Fletcher Chase’s question. The underlying fear is that there won’t be enough and more is the solution. Getty says “More!” with such conviction and yet he sounds absolutely ridiculous, given his extraordinary wealth. He has so much and still can’t feel secure. As the film progresses it becomes more apparent that his underlying psychology drives his decisions about money.

Our beliefs about money are powerful

Many of our preconceptions about money are formed when we are children, as we observe or are taught how our family handles money. Our beliefs about money are often so powerful that we cling to them whether they’re good for us or not. They can both help us and hinder us. Obviously, Getty had many beliefs about money that served him quite well. He found pleasure in his acquisition of objects — thus his impressive art collection. Spending money on those objects brought him some measure of joy. However, according to the film, he was unable to place the same value on his emotional connections with people, and lived a tragically impoverished life from that perspective.

When it’s about “something else”

This is clearly and poignantly demonstrated in the final scene of the movie, when he takes a prized painting from the wall, of a mother holding her child, and clasps it to his chest. That’s what he could not buy: the adoration, love and connection of being held by his mother. All the money in the world can’t buy that.

The idea is that having more money, even if it’s more than almost anyone on the planet, doesn’t free you from your beliefs about it. Yes, you can have plenty of money and still not be able to enjoy it.

What this can teach us is that separating what we value in life from the tools we use to navigate our lifestyle (namely money) will help us to find some number that is enough. With self-examination we can temper the baggage we carry from the past. This will free us to make personal and meaningful choices about how we invest our money. Thus, we can put our money to its best use: to enhance and facilitate our values. And that, I will venture to say, is how money buys happiness.

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