You Say You Want To Be Happy, But Be Honest: You Want To Be Wealthy

“The woman you want to be is rich,” argues Chelsea Fagan

Charlotte was totally rich

Let’s engage with this provocative essay from Chelsea Fagan of the Financial Diet (h/t Helaine Olen), in which she argues that women, whether or not they admit it, want to be wealthy.

The Woman You Want To Be Is Rich

This isn’t something that’s often talked about. The desire to be well-off may seem gauche to articulate, or maybe it’s repressed or subconscious enough that most women aren’t aware of it. But Fagan urges readers to understand that they might well nonetheless be subject to, even subjects of, that desire.

You may not ever think of yourself in those terms, you may not have a hard number in your mind or a plan for how you’re going to get there, you may not even think that having a lot of money is important to you. But it’s what you want, I can promise you.

In fact, you may think quite the opposite: you may think that your goal is to be happy, to have time and leisure and focus on simpler pleasures like nature or meditation. But I have news for you: all of those things are money. All of the women you have seen who feel like they have the lives you want, almost invariably have them because of money. And that is as much true for the Farmer’s-Market-Reclaimed-Wood-Minimalism Queen as it is for the more traidtional, Louboutin-wielding fashionista. They are both rich, both bathing in their financial luxury and freedom, one is just more honest about it. [editor’s note: emphasis mine]

She explains that the desire to be rich can take many forms, some of which may not seem immediately and obviously connected with wealth, all of which lead back to ease. And ease is expensive.

We may find a huge variety in the expression of the women we aspire to be, denoted like limited edition Barbie dolls — the Career Woman, the Perfect Mom, the Fitness Guru, the Nature Girl, the Domestic Goddess, the Fashionista, the Traveler — but we must all come back to the same ultimate conclusion when we try to figure out how to be her: she costs money. To be a stay-at-home mom with a high quality of life is a crème de la crème luxury. To spend your time performatively ridding yourself of possessions and getting back in touch with spirituality requires no debt, lots of savings, and no serious obligations. To treat your body as a second career requires enormous time and energy. To throw yourself full-heartedly into your profession as a mother means someone at home to do all that inconvenient child-rearing, at least much of the time.

None of the paradigms we’re taught to aspire to, or the Photoshopped highlight reels we drool over on social media, exist without an enormous amount of money or time, which are ultimately the same thing.

Money buys us leisure, Fagan argues: the time, as well as the freedom, to self-actualize, to become fulfilled. Anyone who denies this is probably full of it, one way or another, or else blind to their own privilege.

My main quibbles are as follows:

  1. Why women, rather than everyone? Much of this applies to people generally, even if ladies are perhaps overrepresented on the kind of aspirational lifestyle blogs Fagan seems to have been affected by.
  2. For that matter, she is addressing a much more specific segment of the middle-class-ish, upwardly mobile, Internet savvy female population than she acknowledges.
  3. Why “rich” rather than “comfortable”?

To me, the difference between “rich” and “comfortable” was articulated well in the recent study that found that making $75,000 a year was an important satisfaction tipping point.

Do We Need $75,000 a Year to Be Happy?

Key takeaway: “The lower a person’s annual income falls below that benchmark, the unhappier he or she feels. But no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness.”

I doubt anyone would call $75,000 a year “rich” these days, at least in the more expensive coastal states. It’s more like what I’d call “comfortable.” Yet when Fagan talks about everyone wanting to be rich, does she mean everyone wants to hit that mark — because it translates to an ability to save some, to give some away, to pay some bills without anxiety and make some purchases with guilt — or does she mean everyone actually wants to be rolling in it, Real Housewife- or CEO-style? Fagan doesn’t specify. She wants an abstract amount that feels like enough, and she’s willing to work for it, so more power to her.

I’m not sure that means the rest of us have the same goals. I don’t think I wish I were “rich,” not even subconsciously. Maybe that’s because I don’t see it as a real possibility, whereas “comfortable” — able to travel, to invest, to not feel stressed, on a daily basis, about spending decisions — is. That’s what I’m working towards, that’s what I hope to achieve: I want to be able to fly when I want to fly; I don’t need to fly first-class. I want to be able to give generously to a good cause; I don’t need to give a million bucks. Maybe I’m deceiving myself. Or maybe when Fagan says “rich,” that’s all she means.

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