How Getting Robbed by Bernie Madoff Led Her to a Happier Life

Bernie Madoff Geneen Roth was a successful author before she received what she now dubs "the call."

The call brought news that the financial adviser to whom she had entrusted her and her husband's life savings was a fraud. They had been ripped off by Bernie Madoff -- victims of his now-notorious Ponzi scheme.

The initial horror of learning that her financial adviser was a fraud brought on a range of reactions -- panic, terror, self-blame, rage.

Over time, however, Roth was able to struggle through the crisis and financial catastrophe to see another side of life. She came to the conclusion that "the real suffering was not living without money; it was living with this ranting mind."

Eventually, Roth put pen to paper. In Lost and Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life, she describes the personal, financial and psychological journey that followed that fateful phone call.

A Financial Wolf in Savior's Clothing

Before Madoff was exposed, Roth and her husband were not alone in believing that he was acting as a good steward of their money to produce those steady returns. Many smart, highly successful people fell victim to his scheme. And it's no wonder.

In her research, Roth discovered that as important as money may seem to our futures, many people are embarrassed by it, would rather not talk about it, and often don't even want to think about it. So they look for "financial saviors" to take care of their money matters instead of accepting accountability for their own financial futures and decisions about where to park their hard-earned cash.

Madoff had the perfect cover -- a shroud of apparently trustworthy attributes such as his reputation for producing good returns regardless of market factors, and an impressive résumé that included a stint as chairman of the Nasdaq.

Only after Roth experienced her financial loss did she start to examine her own relationship with money. It was then that she discovered that it was very similar to how people relate to food -- a subject in which she knew very well.

You Can Never Have Enough

Although she wasn't an expert in finance, Roth found that this personal financial experience had a lot in common with her area of expertise -- the meaning and motivations driving people's emotional food issues. (Her book Women Food and God ranked No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list, and she's been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.)

Both food and money gain emotional importance and meaning, much of which is illusory or even related to addictive and compulsive tendencies. With both, people begin to hinge their sense of well-being and sometimes even survival on obtaining more.

Roth's new fascination with money led her to talk to many people about the concept of "enough." One money manager said he'd never met an über-wealthy individual who thought he or she had enough; the final conclusion he'd drawn was that no amount would be enough for many people.

As Roth writes:
"It turns out the focus on me-me-me getting more-more-more leaves us empty-handed and poverty stricken." Equating "net worth" with "self-worth" can lead to negative outcomes and strong regrets. Plus, that line of thinking is what helps bolster the business of someone like Madoff, who was promising steady (and ultimately unrealistic) returns over time.

In the end, the situation isn't really about money, but emotions: "If you're trying to fill something that can't be filled with what you're using, the emptiness never goes away and you keep on wanting more."

Defining Real Value

It was when Roth began to realize that nothing of any real value had been taken from her that she turned an emotional corner.

"In this moment, when I began paying attention to what I did have instead of what I didn't, there was a constant, unavoidable display of gorgeousness everywhere, anywhere... in this exact moment, in the kitchen or backyard or car, there was no catastrophe," she writes.

Indeed, research shows that making exponentially more money doesn't make anybody exponentially happier. Once our basic needs are cared for, true happiness doesn't come from "an increasingly useless pile of paper," a quote Roth picked up from social psychologist Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness.

Beating the Madoffs of the World

Roth neither exalts nor demonizes money; instead, she encourages people to have a more healthy relationship with its place in our lives.


Her call is for awareness: The only way to stop having "an insane relationship with money" is a willingness to examine the relationship -- to be more mindful and accountable for the ways people spend and invest their money.

Embarking on that journey, she says, is a major victory against the thieves and con artists of the world who prey on those trying to turn a quick buck. "The Madoffs of the world profit because we let them," she said. Taking charge of our own relationship with money is a far more positive dividend than Madoff ever mustered.

For more from Alyce Lomax's interview with Geneen Roth, click here. If you're worried about a money disaster, here's your Plan B.


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Somey

mrspelosi
You are going to be the speaker of the house again aren't you; I'm counting on you; we need you back.

May 15 2012 at 6:07 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
barney

it's a hebrew thing

May 15 2012 at 5:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Somey

joeproblemchild , you aren't kidding about being a problem child are you.

May 15 2012 at 4:58 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Somey

oeproblemchild

Hey genius....I'll type this slowly in an attempt to have you understand....

THERE WERE NO INVESTMENTS MADE! THERE WERE NO TRADES! IT WAS ALL FAKE!

There could have been another quarter million pages of Wall St. regulation. They wouldn't have applied to this scumbag....BECAUSE HE NEVER MADE ANY INVESTMENTS WITH PEOPLE'S MONEY!

For Christ's sake, look at even an effing wiki page on the subject. Your attempts at partisan bullshit don't float. geeeeeeez.....Robot.
_________________________________________________________________________________-

Joe you poor lost soul, nobody investigated Madoff, which happened on the GOP's watch

May 15 2012 at 4:46 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
brandma6585

Congratulations to Ms. Roth, she made lemonade out of lemons.I'm sorry that people were swindeled by Madoff, but weren't most of his victims wealthy to begin with? Maybe this is fate and a lesson learned that greed will get you nowhere.

May 15 2012 at 4:21 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
BIG KELL

It is unfortunate that our educational system finds that calculus, or trig, or geometry is of infinitely more importance than economic, finance, accounting, business law when it comes to teaching our children. Of course you can have all that financial education and still get hoodwinked, but wouldn't it be of real value for a third year high school kid to learn what Madoff did, what similar people like him are like, what greed is all about, before they suffer at the hands of these evil doers. I say revamp the high school class makeup, and subsitute things, from freshman year on, like: Personal Finance, Business Law, Taxation, Economics, Business Mathematics....and on. Leave Calc, and Trig and the rest to those who will truely us those subjects.

May 15 2012 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Somey

The peak of Madoff’s fraudulent activities was during the Bush years, with a GOP house and senate. The GOP‘s, deregulation and laissez-faire policies and smaller government philosophies were much more beneficial to Madoff than the Democrat’s economical policies. Could it be, that, the GOP government of the time restricted the SEC to get them off their Wall Street Bankster political contributors’ back, and Madoff took advantage of this situation. Also lets not forget that Eliot Spitzer was the only one who did anything about corporate wrong doers in the time of the Bush presidency.

May 15 2012 at 1:59 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Susan

What should she say..she has no choice..Either be miserable the rest of your life or move on...I bet if she was able to recop that money, she wouldn't say no..

May 15 2012 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Davie2743

Many people live for money, it's their only outlet in life to prove self worth and superiority over others. Since having money is fundamental to one's existence it's hard to conceive how anyone wouldn't jump at the opportunity to accumulate a large fortune. Madoff knew that greed begets more greed and played his victims for every dime he could suck out of them. He was one shrewd character who let his own abilities and wealth get in the way of common sense and decency.

May 15 2012 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
krajani29

she should of bent over,then she would ve been happier

May 15 2012 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply