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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | Ventura County Life

With Money Comes a Wealth of Side Effects

March 19, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

First I started seeing all these companies pop up along the 101 with names like Aztec gods: XyzxTek. QualQuarkGenTechCom.

Then I noticed the cars on the highway getting fancier, and the faces behind the wheels younger--25, 20, maybe even a precocious 14-year-old hauling lunch bags filled with floppy disks and stock options.

Finally, I saw a billboard at a Thousand Oaks subdivision: "Homes from the low 600s."

The low 600s!

I knew something was happening here, but I didn't quite appreciate its tragic dimensions until I read about the condition identified by two psychologists from the Money, Meaning and Choices Institute near San Francisco.

Then it clicked: I thought Ventura County was immune from the ailment that has been dubbed "affluenza," but it isn't. We're far south of Silicon Valley, but in the age of the Internet, Sudden Wealth Syndrome knows no boundaries.

Until I heard about Sudden Wealth Syndrome, I was awed by stories of bright young Internet types tucking away millions before they could legally drink.

I envied former colleagues who quit the gritty world of newspapers for exciting and lucrative dot-com start-ups.

What will you do for BopBopShBop.Com? I would ask.

"Provide content," they'd say, in their smug New Economy way.

That's how you talk these days if you want to be rich.

But rich is not for me, no way, nossiree--not after I learned about the heartbreak of Sudden Wealth Syndrome.

According to the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, entrepreneurs afflicted with sudden wealth (SW) often encounter sudden misery (SM).

The money, it seems, fails to make them happy. Instead, they become paranoid, irritable and gloomy. They can't sleep. They're exhausted all the time. They're confused. They suffer panic attacks. They experience "marked periods of anxiety in response to stock market volatility."

The institute advises them to do volunteer work, contribute to charities and don't forget their friends. Including, presumably, the folks at the institute.

So you still want to be a millionaire?

I don't--not for a million bucks.

In fact, I am so moved by the plight of SWS survivors that I am planning events to assist them in their time of need.

There is the telethon, for instance, with SW children--the most tragic cases of all--playing fun, wholesome, "My-lawyer-can-beat-your-lawyer" games on national TV. Would it be too much to call these proud young souls "Steve's Kids"? I think not!

Then there's the "Saunter for SWS," with courageous survivors, cashmere sweaters tied loosely about their shoulders, loping a short course between their cubicles and the parking lot. Who knows how much money and media attention the Saunter will focus on finding a cure for this agonizing condition?

But perhaps the greatest service of all will be in the area of prevention.

No child in America should grow up with the looming threat of SW.

No adult should go about his business unprotected from it.

Whatever I can do to avoid SW myself--and to help others in the bargain--I swear I will.

So far, thank God, I've succeeded.

But the other day, a thing that looked suspiciously like a check arrived from my insurance company.

My wife was anxious. I was terrified, but managed to tear open the envelope.

"Are we--at risk?" she asked in a quavering voice. "At risk--of SW?"

"No dear," I said, viewing the $17 refund with profound relief.

"And we never will be."


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or by e-mail at

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