With all the recent attention to the divide between the 1% and the 99% I’m sure you’ve all heard (and maybe uttered) “I wish I had the problem of being rich”. Of course this is typically said with sarcasm as the speaker usually feels that wealth could not possibly be a problem. Quite the contrary, aren’t rich people blessed and with millions in the bank your life would be one of luxury and ease. If you asked the wealthy and they answered you honestly and with candor you might find out that wealth does not rid you of problems, it just gives you a different set of them.
I was reading a story on The Atlantic over the weekend discussing a survey done among the wealthy (those with over 25 million dollars net worth) to gauge their level of happiness and overall feelings regarding their wealth. It was quite illuminating to find that among those surveyed (165 respondents), most are still quite insecure about their level of wealth. It seems that rich people also suffer from other issues such as lack of real connections, feelings of inadequacy, a fear of being seen as ungrateful and perhaps most troubling a fear of what their wealth will do to their children.
Among a group with an average net worth of 78 million dollars you probably wouldn’t expect to find many fears or insecurities about money, but the study says this is untrue. Most of the millionaire respondents claim that they do not feel financially secure and would need 25% more wealth to have a sense of financial security. One even claimed he wouldn’t feel secure until he had 1 billion dollars! It is obvious that increased wealth does nothing to stem the feelings of insecurity when it comes to money. What level of wealth do you think is necessary to feel secure? I can almost guarantee it is less than 1 billion dollars, but if this study is any guide it means that no matter how much money you amass you will always feel as if you need more.
Rich people can also have problems deriving pleasure from consumption. Most of us can at least temporarily get some pleasure through deliberate and excessive consumption. A dream vacation to Europe, a shopping spree, a fancy and expensive dinner or a day long spa treatment are enough for most of us to feel pleasure, at least for a few hours. This is not so for the ultra wealthy, where such things are as commonplace as a cheeseburger is to us. Gradually the pleasure from such activities is eroded, until the luxury of such experiences is no longer a luxury at all and this avenue of pleasure has been closed.
The wealthy have also lost the pleasure of being able to vent many of their frustrations. Even the most optimistic of us has frustrations and complaints from time to time, but for the super wealthy these complaints must often be internalized, lest they feel as if they are being ungrateful. The wealthy know that they are perceived as smarter, luckier, more blessed and even wiser by some and recognize that these beliefs are misplaced. They also know that others perceptions of these things being true colors most interactions with the non-wealthy. And since the non-wealthy often believe that money can solve all problems a common response to any complaints by rich people is “Well if I had your kind of money…” or “Now you see how the poor live” and other responses along the same lines.
Perhaps most troubling for many of the wealthy respondents is how the wealth they have amassed is going to effect their children or heirs. Just like you and I the wealthy do not wish their children to grow up feeling a sense of entitlement. They worry that the kids will become trust fund brats (think Paris Hilton) or if much of the inheritance is given to charity that they will spend the rest of their lives being resentful. Both very real worries, along with a third which is that the children will spend their lives drifting. Because they have all the money they could need they will never have to work, perhaps never have to even challenge themselves. While this may sound appealing at first, a life without fulfillment can be emotionless, boring and even frustrating if the person doesn’t recognize the source of their discontent. Who would want a life like that for their children.
I’ve written previously about why 1 million dollars isn’t enough and now it seems as if even 10 million or 100 million isn’t enough either. While money might buy pleasure, the old adage “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is certainly one that rich people would agree with.
Could you be satisfied with 100 million dollars in the bank or do you think you would still feel insecure? And what additional problems might come up due to a high net worth? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.