Imagine a super nice person -- the type that always wants to help others, volunteers in the community, and is the first person anyone calls when they're in trouble. Now, tell me if the person you pictured is rich.
Chances are pretty good that your immediate, reflexive answer is no.
Most of us have observed that the kindest among us -- those psychologists label high in agreeableness -- are generally not the best off financially. The reverse is also true. Those with the biggest bank accounts are tend not to be those most concerned with the well being of their fellow man. And if life experience isn't enough to suggest this correlation to you, there is also science to back it up. Wealth and niceness tend not to go hand in hand.
Which is a big bummer for those of us who deeply value kindness but also aren't at all averse to financial security. Is being both a good person and a wealthy one impossible?
A reassuring new study out of Columbia and University College London that digs into why nice people often finish last financially suggests not. Niceness need not get in the way of financial success as long as you take a long hard look at your underlying attitudes toward money, it found.
Being nice is bad for your bank balance.
To suss out just what holds good-natured people back from financial health, the researchers dug into a wealth of data, including bankruptcy records, bank account records, and personality surveys. Their analysis confirmed earlier research showing that niceness is generally bad news for your financial health. For instance, among similarly wealthy individuals, those with high agreeableness were 50 percent more likely to experience bankruptcy.
"We found that agreeableness was associated with indicators of financial hardship, including lower savings, higher debt and higher default rates," summed up study author Joe Gladstone.
Which is fascinating if a little depressing. But thankfully, when the team continued to dig into the data looking for the reason for this correlation, they found happier (and more useful) news.
You might think kind-hearted folks suffer financially because they can't resist a plea for help even if it means taking a financial hit themselves. Or that the agreeable are just somehow wired to be bad with money. But that's not what the researchers uncovered. Instead, they found that agreeable people just tend to care less about money, and because they pay less attention to their finances, they end up struggling more.
The way around the kindness-poverty connection
This is encouraging because it suggests that those who would like to be both standup members of humanity and not worry endlessly about money should be capable of meeting both those goals. You don't have to be mean to get rich (though sadly in some situations it seems to help), you just have to value money and pay attention to it.
This comes more easily to some than others. We all come out of our formative years with an unconscious script about money. Some think a bigger bank balance increases their value as a person (this does not make for a happy life). Others end up thinking that caring about and accumulating money somehow makes you a bad person.
But if you understand that this sort of internal script is holding you back, it can be overcome. And once you get past those sorts of hangups there's no reason you can't be both the kindest person around and also well of financially.
In shirt, niceness does not doom you to poverty. A little attention and self-reflection can break the connection between your agreeable personality and financial struggles.