"Wealth consists not in having great possessions," the Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, "but in having few wants." Sounds wise.
But that doesn't keep people from wanting to be rich. Even though we all define wealth and success differently, most of us factor at least some degree of wealth into our success equations. (If nothing else, money creates choices.)
So how, if financial success is your goal, can you get rich? Science says the answer lies not just in what you do, but also in who you are. According to a 2018 study published in British Journal of Psychology, rich people are definitely different.
Especially where personality traits are concerned.
- Rich people tend to be extroverted. No surprise there. Since no one achieves anything worthwhile on their own, the ability to engage with others, to build relationships, to motivate and inspire, and to genuinely connect is definitely important. (Just keep in mind introverts can also be extremely successful.)
- Rich people tend to be more conscientious. Also not a surprise. Making smart decisions. Delaying gratification, and focusing on long-term goals. Doing what you need to do instead of only what you want to do. Even marrying well, but not in the way you might think: Research shows that people whose partners are conscientious tend to earn more promotions, make more money, and feel more satisfied with their work. (As Jim Rohn says, we tend to be the average of the people we spend the most time with.)
- Rich people tend to be more emotionally stable. Making emotional decisions? Definitely a recipe for slowing progress toward long-term goals.
- Rich people tend to be less neurotic. When you're quick to respond in a negative way, with anxiety, moodiness, worry, or fear -- what psychologists call "negative arousal" -- it's much harder to be successful.
- Rich people tend to be more self-centered. While that sounds like a bad thing, there is this: As Adam Grant says, humble narcissists have very high expectations for their own success -- but they also understand that great achievements are almost always the result of collective efforts. That makes for a winning combination: Believing you can achieve big things helps you get started; knowing you need other people to make it happen helps you finish.
Add it all up and, as the researchers write:
Both empirical and conceptual personality research suggests that extraordinarily high achieving individuals may constitute a group that, on average, differs on several personality traits including higher extroversion and conscientiousness, and lower neuroticism, as well as higher narcissism and locus of control.
So, yeah: Personality matters. Generally speaking, the willingness to work with other people, to do the right things, over and over and over again, to put short-term success and failure in their proper places, and to feel like you, through your own effort and persistence and sheer grit, can largely control the outcome. Those personality traits matter.
Still: You Don't Have to Change Your Personality
But what if none of the above sounds like you? (Don't feel bad: Some of it sounds like me; other parts, definitely not.)
You can't change your personality, especially overnight.
But you can change a few of your behaviors.
For example, rich people tend to be extroverted. If you're introverted, you don't need to change your personality. Just adapt a few "extrovert" behaviors. Actively seek ways to collaborate with others. Find ways to team up with another person on a task or project. Better yet, partner with an extrovert. (Think Jobs and Woz.)
Or say you tend to make emotional decisions, for example, when potential loss is concerned. A bias toward loss avoidance is normal: Research by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, shows that losses are two times as psychologically powerful as gains -- that to many of us, a bird in the hand really does seem worth two in the bush.
A loss means giving up something you actually have; not acquiring a gain means giving up something theoretical rather than actual. That bias sounds logical, but it's often not -- because we tend to overvalue what we might lose.
Say you decide not to attend a meeting because you don't want to "lose" an hour of your time. But you might meet the perfect partner for a joint venture. Or say you decide you don't want to invest $10,000 more in your business. But that investment might allow you to create a product line that opens up a new revenue stream. Most losses, if they do occur, can be overcome. If nothing else, their downside is limited. But potential gains can have unlimited upsides.
So don't try to change your personality -- but do try to change your behavior. Once in a while, set aside your fear and take a chance. Even if you "lose," you'll still gain from the experience.
Which, ultimately, is the point. Attitudes drive behaviors, but behaviors -- and the results of those behaviors -- also shape personality.
Where getting rich is concerned, personality clearly matters. But so do behaviors. Like investing in yourself and others. Taking intelligent risks. Doing a lot of small things right, over and over again.
While hopefully achieving other non-monetary goals along the way -- like making a difference, however small, in the lives of other people.
Because then, even if you don't get rich, you'll still be wealthy.