It’s Not Easy Being Filthy Rich

Wealth-related anxieties keep America’s affluent up at night

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William Brown / www.donnarosenartists.com

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Ever wondered what makes the well-to-do lose sleep at night? A new, intimate survey conducted by Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy reveals the most personal fears, desires, and disappointments of America’s affluent, reports Graeme Wood in The Atlantic (April 2011).  

One hundred and sixty-five households with an average net worth of $78 million filled out the center’s evocative online survey, which asks questions like “How would you describe the ultimate goal or deepest aspiration for your life?” The respondents included jet-setting world travelers, super-yacht owners, and family-fortune beneficiaries who have never, ever had to worry about making rent.  

Despite their fortunes, many of those surveyed lamented a lack of financial security. One multimillionaire noted that it would take $1 billion in the bank to make him feel financially secure. “Such complaints sound, on their face, preposterous,” writes Wood. “But just as the human body didn’t evolve to deal well with today’s easy access to abundant fat and sugars and will crave an extra cheeseburger when it shouldn’t, the human mind, apparently, didn’t evolve to deal with excess money.”  

The wealthy also voiced a lack of emotional well-being, listing a host of wealth-related anxieties: that many of their relationships hinge on their financial status; that they’ll be perceived as shallow and ungrateful if they dare to bellyache about their lives; and—most commonly—that their kids will grow up to be trust-fund terrors with an exaggerated sense of entitlement.  

Although the study’s sample is limited, the results suggest that those of us with less cash in our wallets enjoy some things the wealthy don’t have—including the delusion that next year’s raise or winning lottery ticket just might buy us greater joy.  

“If anything, the rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us,” Wood concludes. “The truly wealthy know that appetites for material indulgence are rarely sated. No yacht is so super, nor any wine so expensive, that it can soothe the soul or guarantee that one’s children won’t grow up to be creeps.”

cover-166-thumbnailHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader