“But the root of all these evils is the love of money, and there are some who have desired it and have erred from the faith and have brought themselves many miseries.” – First epistle of the Apostle Paul to Timothy
I find that quote from the New Testament intriguing; not because it is a religious text – each to their own on that score – but because it seems to me to be a metaphor for the power that material wealth can have on our emotional wellbeing.
The words the faith, for example, could easily be interpreted as a sense of morality or of right and wrong. And the notion that the desire for, and acquisition of, wealth can bring misery seems to me to have more than a ring of truth about it.
Quite simply, being rich beyond imagination doesn’t buy you happiness – just ask Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and his wife Dasha Zhukova who this week announced their separation after ten years of marriage. If £7bn can’t buy you contentment then it’s probably safe to say no amount of money can.
And whilst there are plenty of very wealthy people who seem to live their lives in quiet contentment, apparently putting the Apostle Paul’s sentiment to the sword, history is littered with the stories of society’s super-rich who seem to have been cursed with ill-fortune for generations.
The Kennedys, the Grimaldi royal family, the Gettys and the Rothschilds spring easily to mind as families which appear to have been magnets for tragedy down the decades. Yet surely no family has been as cursed as the Guinness dynasty.
Since Arthur Guinness founded his brewing empire in the mid-18th Century, misadventure after misadventure has befallen his heirs and close family members. From the 1960s the litany of catastrophes became so great that people began to talk of the ‘Guinness curse’.
First, Guinness heir Patrick Browne was killed when he ran a red light in Kensington and smashed into a van. Henrietta Guinness committed suicide in Italy in 1978 and was followed into the grave in short order by Dennys Guinness (suicide), the son of John Guinness (car crash), Caroline Blackwood whose Gothic existence saw her succumb finally to death through alcoholism and two minor heirs who died from drug overdoses.
Though the notion of a curse is of course highly romantic in the literary sense, it’s probably closer to the truth to suspect the tragedies that have befallen the Guinness family and others are the simply result of a toxic mixture of poor mental health.
It’s no coincidence that drug and alcohol addiction feature prominently in the Guinness story. If money is at the root of all evil, then as the author and addiction specialist John Bradshaw says, shame is at the root of all addictions. And nothing is more likely to bring you bad luck than addiction.
The Guinness tragedies – both fatal and non-fatal context – have little to do with bad luck and far more to do with the shame of the past. Addiction is a symptom of something buried deep within the subconscious.
One can speculate with some degree of logic on how great wealth can impact negatively on those who have it – and particularly on children. Certainly, it’s no coincidence that the Guinness story is awash with accounts of children who were either denied parental love or were actively neglected. One early account talks of immediate child heirs who were abandoned to such an extent that they were forced to beg neighbours for food scraps.
Abandonment, a common theme to a greater or lesser extent throughout the dynastic tragedies of the modern era, is a great nourisher of shame. As John Bradshaw observes: “Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.”
As I’ve said before, no-one chooses to saddle themselves with an addiction, because addiction needs a trigger – and invariably that trigger comes in the form of shame. Shame at losing a job, shame at failing in a relationship, shame for one’s heritage, shame for behaving badly. Shame is the mother of all bad luck because of the life choices she provokes.
It’s hard not to look at the Guinness family and not come to the conclusion that chronic dysfunction has been a frequent bedfellow. If, as Bradshaw suggests, delusion is sincere denial, then it’s not difficult to see how psychology can short-circuit.
Money breeds power, power breeds money and the acquisition and retention of both generally requires a ruthlessness that has no space for an upbringing or lifestyle that could be described as being in any way normal and often proves destructive in later life.
There’s more than a grain of truth in the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it doesn’t just corrupt politically and financially, but also emotionally.
And if you’re beginning to think that this doesn’t apply to you or the people you know because you don’t have several million washing around the family piggy bank, it’s useful to bear in mind that wealth and its impact is relative.
If one starts with nothing, the figure at which you might be described as wealthy is very much lower than the figure at which others might judge their riches. Being poor doesn’t mean you’ll never have to deal with shame, far from it – but it does mean your lifestyle, problems and fall from grace can’t be supersized to the same extent.
Money in and of itself isn’t at the root of all evil. Neither is the desire for affluence. There are sufficient numbers of happy, wealthy people to prove that.
But if the well of your emotional wellbeing has already been fundamentally poisoned by your past, then having great reserves of money can artificially insulate you against your unhappiness and the unhappiness of others. Living fast and loose by making poor lifestyle choices around addiction means you might fly for longer, but reaching rock bottom and finally seeking the help you can take longer. And as some of those infamous families will testify, you might run out of time before that happens.
Lady Henrietta Guinness, prior to leaping to her death from a bridge in Italy in 1978, wrote a suicide note in which she proclaimed: “If I had been poor, I would have been happy.”
Sadly, the truth is that had she been poor, she would very likely still have been unhappy – but she might have recognised her unhappiness for what it was and, in that knowledge, taken a different course of action to deal with it.
At the beginning of this article I said that money can’t buy you happiness. But using it to invest in the right kind of help and deal with whatever trauma or shame is leading you to make dangerous choices can very often, accompanied with some solid self-work, set you on the road to good mental health.