10/22/2013 06:14 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Money Is Not Special


Prior to changing paths and moving to Hollywood, I had a whole other life in the Silicon Valley as a securities lawyer, a consultant, an investment banker and an Internet executive. I've spent a lot of time around a lot of money. The one thing I learned is that money, in and of itself, is not special. It is merely an escalator. Whatever you have going on, money will escalate that. If you're naturally generous and happy, money can make you more generous and happier. If you're naturally a jackass, money will make you more of a jackass.

I was once again reminded of this yesterday when "news" broke that Amanda Bynes would be allowed supervised outings from rehab. I read the story on a popular gossip site, and of course, it was coupled with dozens of comments, almost all of which were unkind. One comment in particular caught my eye, saying: "I am so sick of all these spoiled, rich celebrities. She has all the money in the world, so there's no reason for her to behave this way."

To start with, this young woman clearly has mental health issues, so blaming her for the way she behaves is like blaming a diabetic for being unable to control her insulin levels. Second, none of these young celebrities making news with their behavior are anything close to spoiled. Amanda Bynes started working when she was 7 years old. Miley Cyrus starting earning a paycheck at 10, and by the age of 11, Lindsey Lohan, who went to work at 3, was the primary breadwinner in her family.

How many of us can say that? And whether it seems glamorous or not, acting and modeling is work. It is not an extended trip to Chuck-E-Cheese, it's learning lines and being ready to perform at a moment's notice and spending hours getting your hair and makeup done, which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

How many things did you take up as a child, then decide you didn't like anymore and quit? Karate? Ballet? Guitar? Dungeons & Dragons? Did your parents let you quit, or was that activity supporting your entire family? Money is not special -- getting to walk away from something you might not want to do anymore is special, especially if it's something you never chose to do in the first place.

There is so much more to enjoying life than having millions of dollars, and what we would trade off for money can tell us so much about ourselves.

I have a young cousin who was the victim of a crime and was hospitalized for days. The attacker crushed his face into the hood of his car, driving his orbital bone into his sinuses. He will have pain in his face for the rest of his life. In discussing a possible lawsuit he could bring against the attacker and other responsible parties, he was concerned that people would think he was just out to get rich. I asked if he would rather have a million dollars or for the attack never to have happened. In a split second he said he wishes the attack never happened. Money is not special -- living your life without pain is special.

Would you trade places with Suri Cruise? She will never have to worry about how to pay a bill. She will also never be able to leave her house without being photographed. She will never be able to gain or lose weight, or have a bad hair day, or drink too much at a college party without it being fodder for Twitter. Can you imagine having a dozen creepy, 30-something photographers trailing you on your first date, or worse, not really knowing if the guy you're on that date with actually likes you or just wants to say that he went out with you? Money is not special -- privacy is special. Knowing who your real friends are is special.

Which brings us back to Ms. Bynes. She was carrying a sketch comedy show at the age of 13, while still appearing on another series as a regular, which means hundreds of people's jobs depended on her. She was also required to do promotions for the network, sit through seven-hour press junkets in sweaty hotel ballrooms being asked the same question 100 times, attend all kinds of awards ceremonies (again -- not as much fun as you would think, particularly when the camera keeps cutting to you over the course of a four-hour evening), and did I mention that magazines started talking about her weight when she was 15? How much money do you think she would give just to go back in time and have one year of her youth when less was expected of her? Money is not special -- control over your life is special. A normal childhood is special.

I realize that most of the people reading this post wish they had more money. I wish I had more money. But money is not the key to happiness or wellness or a good life. Like I said at the start, if you're a happy person, you will probably be even happier with more money, but if you are an unhappy person, no amount of money will change that. Make happiness your goal. Let the money take care of itself.

Because being happy -- truly happy -- is just about as special as it gets.

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For more by Valerie Alexander on Huffington Post, click here.

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