Coming into money ought to be a good thing, right?
Anne Lin

18 May 2015 - 7:16 PM  UPDATED 24 May 2016 - 8:27 PM

Many people dream of getting a large financial windfall, but being the recipient of a life-changing sum of money may not always be as awesome as it seems.

We typically hear about the difficulties faced by people with a lack of funds, but would you believe that a hefty bonanza can be just as challenging?

We're not even talking about the one percenters, but the ordinary folk who get lucky.

There's a line from Biggie Smalls's nineties chart-topper which may sum up what we might be thinking about those suddenly blessed with a lot of cheddar:

"I don't know what they want from me; It's like the more money we come across; The more problems we see."

So what happens when people strike it rich? Before you roll your eyes at what looks like a first world problem, unprecedented wealth can be both advantageous and problematic for the nouveau riche.

In fact, this event can even send a person's life down a dangerous path. And American psychologists even have a name for this affliction – "sudden wealth syndrome."

In 1995, British man Mark Gardiner collected £11 million from what was the largest lottery triumph at the time.

"I think that, whatever your problems are, money magnifies them," Gardiner wrote in the Daily Mail.

Appearing on SBS Insight, Gardiner said the win brought out the worst in human nature.

"It's everyone's dream to win the lottery and you'd think that people would be happy for you and it's all roses and you know, sunlight and light and love and care.  And then you see this other side of green eyed monster, jealousy, resentment, envy ... That was the nasty part that I've seen of the lottery." 

Michael Gilding, from Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology, has looked into how people handled a windfall.

Gilding says inheritance is the main way that people get a windfall, but it's also one which they are shy to discuss. 

"One of the things I noticed when I was interviewing people who made money themselves and people who made money through inheritance was, people who made money themselves through their own labour were very comfortable about talking about it and were happy talking about all the things that they did and talked with great sense of pride."

"Whereas people who inherit money are many more defensive, they feel much more uncomfortable. Basically our society values and valorises self-made money, but it's much less comfortable with windfall money or inherited money," Gilding said. 

"One of the things about getting a whole lot of money is it actually changes your relationship with those around you and so it can actually be very disruptive of social relationships ... There's a big taboo around money and people find it really hard to deal with issues around inequality and differences in what you can expect in your life."

 'People's expectations are greater than what you feel that you're going to give'

Now 20 years later, Gardiner says the money has definitely complicated his relationships because "people always want more".  

"Lottery winners are sort of in limbo because you sort of can't sort of mix with the people that you were with because they believe that you should go up for a higher tier and why are you still drinking in your local bar when you should be in London at the Ritz with Bollinger and caviar? And then if you to go to the Ritz, those people think what are you doing here, because you've just won some money and you shouldn't be with us."

"I've given money and gifts to people that were sort of close to me at the time, work colleagues and sort of family. But in a way if I could go back in time it sort of, it has caused rifts because I've learnt that what is the definition of enough? You know, what is enough? People's expectations are greater than what you feel that you're going to give, and people always want more. It's quite sad."

After spending on the usual luxuries such as beach houses, fancy holidays and even a real Tardis, Gardiner also invested a portion of his money into his glazing business.

He believes work is what keeps him sane.

"When I finish this show I'm straight back to work. I believe it's my secret to what's kept my feet on the ground and kept me going really."

This week Insight hears from people who have found instant wealth, and how it impacted on their identity and relationships.