In a world where every human emotion or mental state of being has a corresponding psychological term ascribed to it, it’s unlikely that that we’ll escape this planet without being afflicted with ADHD, OCD, HOH, ODD, MND, FAS, GAD or IRS, or possibly a combination of any of the above. Whilst unwittingly acquiring some unpronounceable affliction or syndrome falls way down on most bucket lists, there’s one syndrome that more than a handful of people would undoubtedly clamour to acquire – Sudden Wealth Syndrome or SWS.
A rather uncommon pseudo-medical condition, SWS is difficult to acquire and not in the least contagious. It appears that lottery winners, overnight IPO millionaires and unassuming beneficiaries of large inheritances experience a roller-coaster of emotions ranging from euphoria to guilt, suspicion, isolation and disorientation as result of their sudden financial windfalls, resulting in the coining of yet another syndrome and a whole new area of psychology. Enter an optimistic group of so-called mind-and-money practitioners whose purpose is to help distraught clients come to terms with the emotional and sociological fallout of getting rich.
Research shows that very few instant millionaires escape the clutches of Sudden Wealth Syndrome, although younger beneficiaries of sudden wealth are ostensibly more vulnerable. As with the four stages of grief, studies show that sufferers (if one can indeed call it suffering) of SWS tend to experience a series of emotional states starting with what is referred to as the ‘honeymoon’ phase. Powerful, invulnerable and euphoric, the recipient of new money generally embarks on super-charged spending sprees, uncalculated investments and interest-free lending to all and sundry. After the inevitable drop in happy hormones, which research suggests take about six months to normalise, the rich recipient enters a phase of wealth acceptance in which his view of himself as powerful and invincible is mixed with the realisation that there is an inevitable need to set limits. The baffled beneficiary is often confronted with the enormity of his wealth, his lack of money management skills, the fear of losing his fortune, as well as an identity crisis flowing from the disparity between his previous need to work and the present ability to do absolutely nothing at all.
Many instant millionaires report feeling a complete loss of identity after the reality of their financial windfall sets in. The gargantuan gulf between their austere middle-class existence and their unfathomable bank balance seems to create a rift in reality that takes time to adjust to. With their initial euphoric invincibility being nothing but a distant memory, many beneficiaries feel paralysed by their wealth, intimidated by their lack of financial savvy and burdened by suspicion of advisors and lawyers over-zealous to impart investment advice.
As with any life-changing experience, a sudden shift in financial status can be hugely traumatic, and it appears that it’s during the third stage of ‘identity consolidation’ that the recipient of riches reaches an understanding that he has money but is not defined by it. Coming to terms with one’s transformed financial fortune and future involves re-visiting one’s core values and principles to a point where the beneficiary has a clear sense of who he is, regardless of his bank balance. Reaching a mature resolution of what money really means to them occurs in the final stage of ‘stewardship’ – becoming a responsible custodian of the wealth that, through nothing more than good fortune, has been entrusted to them.
During the acceptance of the role of stewardship, a phase which not all sudden wealth recipients ever reach, the beneficiary of fortune is encouraged to hone his money management skills and accept responsibility (albeit with the able assistance of qualified planners and lawyers) for his wealth. Coupled with the need for financial education, it’s at this stage that many beneficiaries develop a charitable attitude as they recognise the full force of the wisdom that “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Reaching this point of maturity is what truly sets human beings free from any power that money might previously have held over them. Understanding the deep rewards of charity and their own power to use money as an instrument for human upliftment is unquestionably the greatest windfall of all.
Have a blessed day further!
Categories: Financial Planning