Everyone says, “Money makes a good servant, but a cruel master.” OK. So it must be pretty obvious. But how does money become someone’s master?

Money becomes your master when you can’t or won’t face who you really are. Depression and anxiety follow immediately. Want money to serve you, instead of the other way around? There are three basic truths everyone has to face in order to avoid misery:

Truth Number One: We all make decisions with our emotions.

Truth Number Two: We all act differently under conditions of conflict.

Truth Number Three: Our daily motivations are driven by winning and losing.

See, the Hollywood version is that people fall in love with “money” or “power” and then it corrupts them or something. This is a nice fantasy for people who lack money or power and want to feel superior to those who are successful. It’s also a great fantasy for those who are rich and want to give the poor reasons to avoid becoming competition. (Read that last sentence again please.) But the fantasy doesn’t make any sense.

Everyone, outside a tiny number of obsessives with a genuine mental disorder, knows that money is just a tool. Money itself doesn’t master anyone. But the love of money, the search for money, can master someone. (And by the way, nowhere in any scripture does it say “money is the root of all evil”. Here is the correct translation: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”)

So what are people chasing when they chase money? They want to win.

You can waste your whole career by trying to win conflicts with ex-bosses, your old teachers, your parents, your child-hood friends. You can drown in debt trying to out-do your ex-spouse, your neighbors across the street, or your rivals on Instagram. This is how people come into my office, a married couple making a combined four-hundred thousand dollars a year, and they are living paycheck to paycheck.

And they hate their jobs.

Outside of, again, truly serious mental illnesses, this is the only way I know of to be both rich and miserable. Obsess over winning interpersonal conflicts. That’s the formula for deep unhappiness.

And if even rich people who obsess over winning are miserable, then what do you suppose happens to poor or middle-class folks with the same obsession?

No matter your lot in life, competing with people who barely even realize you exist will steal every ounce of joy from your life. Live out a career you hate enough, get into enough debt, and you too can be miserable at any income level. Trying to win conflicts with other people will never lead you to financial stability, economic freedom, or any version of peace.

So instead, figure out what your deep values are, take the smallest steps you can towards them every day, and celebrate each little victory along the way. And if you haven’t done so already, figure out how the heck you’re going to deal with conflict in a way that isn’t blatantly self-destructive. Your attitudes towards money will change along the way, as money becomes your servant, not your master.