Monday, November 19, 2007

Wealth Fatigue Syndrome

Last month it was the problems with being Super Rich. Now, it's this:

Money, in other words, is like a drug; the more you have, the more you need to get a buzz. When a first-class plane ticket no longer satisfies, today’s wealthy board private jets. When that feels common, they buy a private jumbo jet. And so on.

We all like to think that wealth makes you happy. That belief is a core part of our culture. Yet the real impacts of great wealth are far more complicated.

For one thing, great wealth brings new problems. Maybe you don’t have to worry about cleaning the house (the maid will do it) or paying the bills (the private banker’s job). But now you have to worry about hundreds of friends and relatives asking for money. And your investments crashing. And your kid turning into a spoiled brat. And the question of whether your girlfriend or boyfriend loves you, or your money. According to one recent survey, more than 10 percent of millionaires say wealth creates more problems than it solves.

Consumption is a whole other treadmill. Like the article says, many of today’s wealthy are buying ever-larger boats, planes and homes in hopes that once they get that G550 or 250-foot Feadship, they will be content. But that’s not human nature — especially for the wealthy. There is, quite simply, never “enough.”

Now, most millionaires and billionaires I’ve met are happy, contented people. (At least on the outside.) But money isn’t the reason. To them, money is simply a tool for advancing their goals and aspirations. Those who look to money to fill a void or create meaning in their lives are almost always disappointed. Often, money is simply a magnifier — if you’re already a contented person, and see money as a means to an end, then it does make you happier. But if you’re already unhappy, money can make things worse.

Not that anyone should pity the wealthy for their troubles. Yet too often, the media tell us about all the predictable benefits of being wealthy, without mentioning the nasty side effects.

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