Who wouldn't want to be a billionaire?
Kevin Roose, a US business reporter, for one. He lived the life of a billionaire for a day and found that a ten-digit bank balance didn't guarantee the freedom that most of us imagine.
In an article he wrote for the New York Times, he described the experience as stressful and confusing psychologically. This reaction is not atypical, according to research.
Yet Roose's big day out - which was funded by the newspaper - was not short on luxury. He was chauffeur-driven around for the day, starting with a power breakfast at “Core” in New York's Midtown, a gathering place of “ultrahigh net worth individuals”.
He also flew via private jet to a luxury island resort, had a session with two of the city's top personal trainers, saw Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera and wound up at a burlesque-themed nightclub called the Box.
So where was the problem? For starters Roose wrote that he discovered that when you're a billionaire, you're never alone.
“All day, your life is supervised by a coterie of handlers and attendants catering to your whims. In the locker room alone after my workout, I feel unsettled. Where's my bodyguard? Where's my chauffeur? Why is nobody offering me an amuse-bouche while I shampoo my hair?”
He also said that he felt stressed by the cracking pace of his billionaire-style schedule, which left him little time to appreciate uber-rich indulgences like his $45,000 Chopard watch, the lamb's wool floor mats in the Rolls-Royce, VIP access to several elite enclaves and yoghurt parfaits served aboard a Gulfstream IV.
The owner of this jet, a hedge fund manager who spoke to Roose on the condition he remain anonymous, said this of his billionaire lifestyle:
“Look,” he says. “I think all it does is make things easier.”
“I don't think it changes you that much,” he said. “The happy guy who makes tons of money is still happy. If somebody's a jerk before, he's a jerk when he's got a billion dollars.”
At the end of his big day, though, Roose, reported experiencing a sensation that psychologists have dubbed “sudden wealth syndrome”. In his article, he describes the feeling as “cognitive dissonance: a quick oscillation between repulsion and attraction”.
“I'm drawn on one level to the billionaire lifestyle and the privilege that comes with it. But the lifestyle is so cartoonish, so over-the-top flamboyant, that I'm not sure I could ever get used to it,” he wrote.
The psychological aspect of wealth recently hit the agenda with the launch of Abbot Downing, a new wealth management unit of Wells Fargo, which caters to clients with more than US$50 million in investable assets.
Abbot Downing has a group that addresses family psychology and governance to help clients manage this side-effect of their wealth, according to Reuters.
In a white paper, Abbot Downing has also identified family conflict as another potential peril for the very rich. Though every family has its tensions, wealth can “turn up the volume in such matters”, it writes on the topic of family meetings. “Powerful voices among different generations can heat up a family meeting”, it writes.
The uber-rich have even more worries to contend with, however, according to research by Boston College's Centre on Wealth and Philanthropy which was published in US magazine The Atlantic.
It studied 165 households with assets in excess of US$25 million and found wealth could contribute to deep anxieties about love, work and family.
Here are some of the key pitfalls of being super-rich that it identified:
- Many were dissatisfied with their wealth and did not feel financially secure.
- Many said because the pleasure of consumption wore off over time, so constant luxury did not bring them any fulfillment.
- Those who inherited their money worried that they'd lack the motivation to accomplish anything.
- Work tends to fill our time, bringing a sense of attainment and provide social connection so those who don't need to work can feel aimless and divorced from the world.
- If the rich do take jobs, they sometimes find that co-workers resent them on the grounds for taking away the jobs of people who need them or they find that their work is viewed as a charade.
- Socially, wealth can be a barrier and many felt that their relationships had been altered by, or were contingent on, their wealth.
- There were specific social complexities to consider such as the expectation to give good presents, or awkwardness about who should pay at a restaurant.
- Wealthy people have to be wary of gold diggers but also have to fear this wariness might make them mistrustful of genuine affection.
- Money issues can also take a heavy toll on marriages and significant relationships.
- It was common for the very rich to worry that money may rob their children of ambition, empathy or compassion.
- Many felt they'd lost the right to complain for fear of sounding ungrateful for their seeming good fortune.