Having More Is Not Necessarily Better

I grew up pretty poor in East Boston.  We lived in a three-decker, dumbbell tenement where my mother and sister had to walk through my bedroom to get to their own.  My sister’s bedroom was basically a storage room or oversized closet. There were no doors in the rooms, so there wasn’t a whole lot of privacy.  We lived on the third floor, and my grandparents lived on the first floor.  Angie and Rico, the couple who rented the middle floor, were like family.  The three-deckers were so close together that in the summertime, when the windows were open, you could hear the conversations from folks living in the building next door, and could literally hand items from window to window if your neighbor needed to borrow flour or milk.

Just to give you a better feel of just how tight things were money-wise, my mom used to stretch my shoes and dye them another color to get longer use out of them; it was a creative way to get new shoes.  We didn’t go on family vacations, and we purchased necessities, not luxuries.  OK, I think you get the picture.

I am not revealing these facts because I want any sympathy, or for you to say, “poor Lou,” because the fact of the matter is that I wouldn’t want it any other way.  We were extremely happy.  What we lacked in money was made up in the love of our parents and grandparents.   I saw my grandparents every day.   We ate dinner together, and we talked, laughed, and played cards.  I knew their philosophies and what they believed in because they invested time in me.  My grandparents dedicated a lot of time, care, and love to my sister, Stephanie, and me.

If you think of it, my mother was 22 when I was born.  Nothing against my mom or my dad, but at 22, there is not a lot of teaching that you have in you to offer.  At 22, you’re still a kid yourself.  At 22, you’re struggling to make ends meet and make your mark in order to be successful.  It’s a pretty young age to be having children – just my opinion.  So, having 50-year-old wisdom at your disposal every day is very beneficial. The fact that we spent so much time with our grandparents helped us out in many ways.  The love, the advice, the food on the table – all pieces for a happy childhood. We had no money, but we were extremely happy.

In the fields I have been in throughout my career, I have met a good number of very wealthy people.  They have big houses and cars and all the gadgets everyone thinks they want.  Some even have their own private jets.  Many of them have it all, and yet have nothing.  I’m generalizing, but many of the wealthy folks I have met have strange relationships with their kids.  They worked so hard to become wealthy, that they did not spend enough time with their kids and family.  Yeah, sure, they were doing it for their family, but in the process they lost site of what truly mattered and what was most important.  Buying items and possessions for your children is no substitute for your presence and display of love.

When we were kids, we didn’t have smart phones, PSP’s, iPads and all these scheduled sports that we see today.  Because we didn’t have these things, we got creative, used our imaginations, and actually played. We played for the love of the game.  My best pal, Gene, and I would play stickball in the schoolyard for hours – all of that focusing on a small ball with a thin bat made us much better Little League hitters.  We didn’t receive outside instruction from paid coaches and clinics to get better; we just had fun doing it, and happened to get better in the process.  I believe we were better off and actually had more than kids who appear to have more today.  Our lives were enriched even though we weren’t rich.

When I was with the Patriots, I worked crazy hours, traveled with the team, and saw my kids much less than I would have liked.  I was focused on a career and making money and my eye got off the ball.  I was fortunate that my kids were babies and young enough not to be negatively affected by not having my presence.  In fact, we were very lucky – Patricia stayed at home and got the kids on my schedule so we could maximize the time I spent with them.  But just the same, I was headed in the wrong direction, and got caught up with things that really were just window dressing.  Something had to give.

I don’t have the same “glamorous”, jet-setting job that I had years ago, but I have dinner with my family just about every night.  I make all my kids games and all their practices. We ski together, swim together, and spend a lot of time chatting and discussing philosophies, working things out together.  I am happier for it.  I am happy like when I was a kid and I received time, love and wisdom from my grandparents; only now, it’s Patricia and I who are providing those aspects of life to our kids.  My son came home a few days ago and said that one of his friends was sad because she never saw her dad.  In fact, she was a bit mad at him for not being around.  I know I sound like I’m lecturing, but kids notice.  They’re very perceptive; if you are not spending enough time with them, you may want to shift your thinking.

I realize money is necessary for living, but how much do you really need?  Are you aiming for money and possessions, or are you aiming for happiness?  The relationship you have with your children is far more important than any bank account or stock portfolio.  Who is actually a success, the guys like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life or the guys like Mr. Potter?  Society has things all backwards. When your kids need you the most, your time is limited.  When you have time, it’s their time to make a name for themselves.  You can succumb to an inverted system, or you can end the struggle, and strive to achieve what is truly important to you.

What are you aiming for?  I suggest you aim for happiness.

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  1. Lou,

    Pretty powerful. My Dad was senior management with Internal Revenue and it felt like he traveled all the time. The best year of my life was when I was (mostly) stay at home with my youngest for her first year.

    Post my divorce, I’ve struggled “hard” with not being around my kids as much as I dearly desire too. I miss that daily living.


    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thanks for your comment Jeff.

      It’s definitely a balancing act, but when you truly pay attention it make all the difference in the world to your happiness and to those around you. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comments.

      My best,

  2. Hi Lou,
    Thanks for sharing your story and you’re absolutely right, aim for happiness. Life isn’t easy, it never is. I’m a big believer that for anyone to become successful at any point in their life, they need to be willing to work hard, constantly learn/refine, and surround themselves with “genuinely” good people hopefully with aligned interests. I just turned 30, so who am I to preach, but really, there is no right direction in life, it’s all about being content with what you have. I set very high expectations for myself, but I always try to focus much less on the “goal”, and putting as much energy as I possibly can into enjoying the journey.

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Robert,

      In my experience, the key is paying attention and making sure your priorities truly make you happy. Too many folks get caught up in what others portray as happy and not what is real and genuine. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.

      My best,

  3. Lisa Massoni says:

    Lou wow very powerful !! I don’t have children yet
    but this is amazing and so true and I have to
    say my father had raised my brother and I alone
    and he still came home every night to have dinner on
    the table and enjoy the simple things. He had his own business but he balanced it.
    I’m glad he also saw the true meaning of life!

    1. Lou Imbriano says:


      That’s awesome. Obviously your dad is a special man. You are blessed and I’m sure it will translate to how you raise your children. I hope you are well and we get to see you soon. Please say hi to my pal Steve.

      My best,

  4. Michael Keebler says:

    Hi Lou,
    Great story. I was fortunate that both of my parents were around all the time and were always there for me. I’m only 23, and I really admire your commitment to your family. I hope that one day I will be able to balance my career and my family life like you do. Thanks for sharing your stories!


    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thank you Michael.

      True balance will bring you closer to happiness. If you truly want it, you can make it happen.

      Best wishes,

  5. Hey Lou; Great words. Growing up, we didnt have a lot either. I used to throw the baseball up on the roof of the barn and when it rolled off, I’d hit it out into the hay field. I had two balls and a bat, that’s it. That occupied me for hours at a time, usually narrating a situation in the bottom of the 9th with the game on the line. Although my dad worked a lot, he didn’t travel and was at the dinner table almost every night for some of the best food (Mom rocked the kitchen) and conversation in the world. I’m now 48 an have two teenagers and we treasure our dinner time/conversation together. When we spend money, it is usually on things to do together as a family – or back home to see Dad and the rest of the family. Great words. Thanks for taking the time to share.
    Best wishes,

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thanks for your note Gary. Focusing on the true things that make you happy and not what society pretends to be the “right way” is key in actually achieving happiness.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments and sharing your experiences.

      My best,

  6. Lou,

    Everyone loves a good Horatio Alger story, as well as the story of the boy/girl who grew up in a humble but loving home, grew up to become a success, but never forgot his or her roots.

    What you fail to mention is that many of these people with humble roots who do manage to achieve some degree of success have to work several times harder than their peers who grew up in families where economic success was a tradition that was expected of them. Expectations are much lower, barriers to success – both social and professional – are much higher. I never questioned that I would go to a certain kind of high school, university and grad school and have a certain kind of career that paid me at a certain level. And none of my peers growing up did, either. There’s power in that.

    You can’t underestimate the social barriers, either. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard from someone who came from a lower socioeconomic bracket something like “I don’t fit in with these people” (when he talks about people he meets at a private club, or lawyers/bankers/other professionals). Often, “these people” think that person is perfectly lovely individual and couldn’t care less about socioeconomic status as long as that person is otherwise good company – but it’s in the person’s head that he or she doesn’t fit in. This affects everything from business networking to forming a social circle to dating/marriage.

    Having more isn’t better (I’ve always viewed conspicuous consumption as rather vulgar), but having all of the right things of the highest quality is. Many of those “right things” are the simple intangibles on which you touched, but many of them aren’t. And we can’t rose tint that.

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Carla,

      Thank you for thought provoking and insightful comments. You make great points, but to clarify my theme; it’s really not a “rags to riches” story it’s more of a “rags are riches” perspective, with many people missing the point. So, while your statements are clearly on target, my post is not about how hard you work to overcome adversity, it’s about priorities and not missing out on what you have, because you are focused on what you do not have. My hopes in writing this post is that folks will not fall into the trap of equating money and business success to happiness.

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment. I appreciate it.

      My best,

      1. Lou,

        Many thanks for your reply. I actually agree with you more than I disagree with you. I like to think of wealth on a time/money continuum. Time is a scarce resource. So is money. Having a lot of money and no time will expose you to certain blessings and stressors. And vice versa. And even having a lot of money and time is no guarantee for happiness, which is more a function of your internal well-being as opposed to your external well-being.

        I agree overwhelmingly that too many people emphasize the money variable and not the time variable. What they don’t realize is that even if you have all the money in the world, if your schedule doesn’t permit you to take that trip to wherever it is you have been dying to see, or if you have to miss countless weddings and other milestones, or you find your personal and family relationships falling apart or fading away – money can’t fix that.

        Not everyone is going to realize the wealth that can be found in an environment when money is extremely tight. For example, I don’t think you’ll have an easy time convincing unemployed milennials who are living at home to look on whatever bright side their situation may pose. But nearly every investment banker and corporate lawyer I know would love to trade in salary to get quality of life.

        Also – gratitude. When I’m feeling low, I think of all the things I am thankful for. And very few of them are things that require money alone (as opposed to time, or a combination of money and time) to experience.

  7. Brian Moran says:

    My MAN Lou! I just wrote a blog post that complements what you are saying here. http://smallbusinessedge.com/a-better-way-to-live/. You are 100% correct. Happiness is inversely proportional to the amount of money you have in your bank account. You work your ass off to get it and fear every single day that you’re going to lose it or someone will steal it from you.

    Thanks for sharing your article with us. Made my day! Brian

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thanks bud. Going to read yours now. Chat with you soon. Aim for happiness…

  8. Jim Capobianco says:

    I support your view money not so important as time with family. The lowest point in my life was the one year I had money.

  9. Bridget DeFeo Donnelly says:

    Lenny Spada shared your article on Facebook. I have known him since I was eleven or twelve years old. And am so grateful that he did. I have not been moved to tears like this in a very long time. I grew up in the Heights and miss it to this day. Since my parents made the great flight to the North Shore, as a lot of us did, it has never been the same. There is a void that can never be replaced. I cherish those memories and am so lucky to have them. Friends and family that you can still call up in the middle of the night, no matter what. Now we are all on the South Shore. Some days I feel like I am living on a vacant parcel in the middle of no man’s land. Yes, the people are nice and they are decent, but…what can I say, they just don’t get it. It’s very, hmmm, sterile I would give anything to be back where we were. I appreciate your candor and thank you so very much for sharing. We did have more than most people in their lifetimes will ever have the privilege to experience.

  10. Bridget DeFeo Donnelly says:

    And yes, I have shared this on Facebook too! Thanks again!

  11. I have fond memories. Triple decker. Grandparents on the first floor. Cards and checkers at night. Watching soupy sales on what’s my line. Four room apartment for four of us. No doors. Precious times.

  12. Gene DeMarco says:

    Well said Lou. Some of the happiest times of my life spent in the company of family and friends, making up games and eating around the kitchen table. My kids just dont get it as hard as I try to instill the same values in them. Mt wife and I do our best though. We all eat at the table together every night and are required to give the highlights and low lights of the day. They do it reluctantly but it always spurs conversation. And when a friend comes over they LOVE this tradition. They never eat together. Bottom line is finding that balance of family and work. We’re not as “POOR” as my folks were but thankfully, Im home every night and have been blessed to coach my son in every LL game he’s played. Im truly a happy man thanks to the values instilled by my parents.

  13. rich cutlip says:

    Good read lou. Don’t forget that neighborhood of which you speak was a special place back then. We had neighbors n neighbors had us. I wouldn’t change one thing about my childhood other than the fact I would’ve taken school more serious. The friends I had n the sports we played in the school yards were what memories are made of. I remember being home for dinner at a certain time or you didn’t eat. I make it a point to see my kids as much as I can, they are in college or graduated. Family time was always available. Thanks for reminding me of my priorities

  14. Donna Blasetti says:

    An excellent read. I grew up the same way, but in Medford. By some peoples standpoint, I guess we were poor, but we didn’t know it. I treat for us was going to revere beach and getting an ice cream. The one thing however, is that my parents were always there. We had one car, that my dad used for work, plus my mom didn’t drive, so she would take us everywhere on the bus and train. The only thing that my parents splurged on was to send me to catholic school. We didn’t have air conditioners, a microwave, a blow-dryer, cable, or video games. We never went on vacations, and unless it was a birthday or holiday, we had no soda or junk food in the house. I raised my kids the same way. Occasionally, some of their friends had parents that gave them everything, but I would point out to my kids that they were not any happier, and these kids parents were almost never around. My kids are older now, and they know how lucky they are to have the relationship that our family has. They have seen firsthand, how a lot of parents fall to the wayside.

  15. Matt D'Agostino says:

    Grew up in a triple decker and shared a bed with my brother til I got married at 22. We were creative in the games we played…how many jumps on a pogo stick til you would fall……rock fights…….popsicle stick races in the gutters when it rained……All part of a wonderful childhood…..I heard a line a long time ago…….” at what price success ? …only you can answer yourself

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