A Boston College study recently looked at the community of the “super rich,” defined in this case as households with a net worth above $25 million. The purpose was to determine whether wealth, or more specifically, absolute financial security, resulted in fulfillment. There have been numerous studies on wealth and happiness, and often, the results are contradictory. This study set out with the goal to survey 1,000 individuals whose household net worth exceeds the aforementioned minimum with open-ended questions. The researchers were able to collect only 120 responses, so the sample might not be representative. The resulting information, however, did speak to the level of fulfillment among this crowd.
The survey shows that people have a craving for financial security, perhaps an inborn drive like other factors needed to survive like the desire for food. While we may stop eating when we are sated, by looking at the environment that changes with growing wealth, we may never feel we reach full financial security.
The survey also identifies differences between people who have inherited their wealth, those who have earned their wealth, and those who suddenly became rich due to, for the most part, luck. For the latter two categories, gained wealth often brings upon a change in social environment — some friends disappear while some new friends enter the picture. For this reason, many wealthy often keep their success a secret. The onset of wealth could make you wary of your intimate relationships, and make you question whether your partner loves you or your money.
Possibly worst of all the psychological issues wealth brings, wealthy people know that their issues are “rich people’s problems,” and as a result, believe that they shouldn’t be complaining publicly. For example, the super rich could be anxious when the holidays arrive, because no gift they could present to someone will live up to expectations of an appropriate gift from a wealthy individual. It’s dangerous to internalize these feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration.
Most of the wealthy individuals surveyed in this study are concerned about their children. While they are pleased that they don’t have to worry about affording education, they fear that their children will grow with a sense of entitlement if they are fully provided for, or will grow with a sense of resentment if wealth is held back in an attempt to teach them responsibility and the value of earning one’s way through life.
Every individual exists in a unique situation. Though it’s possible to generalize all the problems one might have based on the level of that individual’s wealth, we shouldn’t write off someone’s deepest concerns because they are different than other people’s concerns or because we feel they should be happy with what they have. It might be difficult to feel compassion towards someone who seems to have all the luxuries a non-wealthy family would want, but I don’t think psychological isolation is good for anyone. It also helps to remember that even though you might not be super rich in terms of this study, even a small income of $26,000 in the United States puts you well above 90% of the world’s population. We all have “rich people problems.”
Published or updated March 9, 2011.