The Pros and Cons of Being Super Rich Ben Casnocha
Entrepreneur. Investor. Author. Published Apr 14, 2016 + Follow
According to one survey, the most common answer people give when asked what would most improve the quality of their lives is: make more money. And yet, we all know rich people who are unhappy. You cant buy happiness, goes the cliché.
Whats the truth of the matter? This question is at the start of an authoritative piece on the relationship between money and happiness published by the good folks at 80,000 Hours. They explore the nuances of exactly how much money tends to matter to happiness. Its well worth reading.
Ill frame the topic a bit differently: Whats the ideal amount of money for a person to have? Its one thing to consider whether an incremental X dollars adds to your happiness. Its another thing to consider whether an incremental X dollars above a certain amount can actually subtract from your happiness through the additional hassle it creates.
Its a great luxury, of course, to contemplate the unimportance of pursuing another few million dollars of wealth. A billion people in the world live on a dollar a day or less, and in America, the median household income in America in 2014 was ~$54,000. So Im talking about a tiny fraction of the world population that already earns well above those levels of income.
But for this well-off fraction of the populationmostly educated professionals who were fortunate enough to be born in rich countries like the United Statesthese questions about making money are heavy and relevant. A lot of entrepreneurs, financiers, and general businesspeople I know, whether theyd admit it or not, strive (and indeed sacrifice) in order to try to make more money. More! More! More! As Facebook exec Sean Parker'scharacter famously quipped in the movie The Social Network: A million dollars isnt cool. You know whats cool? A billion dollars.
Because most people default to more is better, its interesting to examine the pros and cons of life at the "Super Rich" level -- those who have hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars in the bank account. Although I'm not at that level,Ive gotten to know people who need not work another hour in their life to maintain a luxury lifestylewith all the sometimes-surprising advantages and, yes, hardship, that super wealth can involve.
What are the benefits of being super rich?
Its nice to be super rich. But maybe not for the reasons you think. Youll fly private jets, yes. Youll eat nice food all the time, youll have aides and servants who will save you time. Problem is, we quickly adapt to these material comfortswhat psychologists call the hedonic treadmill. The private jet doesnt feel so special the 20th time youre on it. Rather than marveling at the fact youre on your own plane, youre more likely to just compare it (oftentimes unfavorably) to other private planes youve been on. Im not making up this anecdote. I was once on a private jet with a bunch of people and the Hollywood owner spent an hour talking enviously about other peoples much nicer planes. Once he and his buddieswere done with that topic, the conversation turned to offshore tax shelters, which they discussed with great sincerity. It was at that moment when I began taking notes on the conversation in Evernote so as to not forget such a stereotypically hilarious exchange.
The actual best part about being super rich, as far as I can tell, is this: Youre more likely to feel like you led a life of meaning. You might not be happy all the time or most of the time, but you will feel like your time on this earth counted for something. One way to distinguish happiness from meaning is that happiness is the day to day bounce of emotions while meaning is what you feel when you step back, take a minute, and reflect on what will go in your obituary. (Heres my poston meaning vs. happiness.)
How so? The feeling of meaning and making a difference manifests in real, concrete ways. Someone like Meg Whitman can walk the HP campus and see thousands of employees who support their families thanks to employment at HP; she can read stories about the millions of people who use HP products every day to be better at their job. That imbues her life with a sense that her life matters. If you dont have a corporate campus to walk aroundif, for example, youre an options trader and not a builder of thingsfear not. With a supple bank account, you can still take actions that generate meaning. Write big checks to charity and youll get thank you notes from the children at the public school you helped. Youll get enough feel-good ooze from your charitable giving to last you a lifetime. Entrepreneur and billionaire Marc Benioff hassaid,Nothing is going to make you feel better. Philanthropy isabsolutelythe best drug Ive ever taken.
The second best part of being super rich is that you can meet anyone in the world. As Andy Warhol once put it, the best part about being famous is the chance to meet other famous people. Someone like Larry Ellison can summon writers or professors or politicians or CEOs to his office at his convenience. The late economist Gary Becker argued that people are the most addictive thing on the planet.Its an addictive itchsuper rich people can scratch easily.
So, heres what I think liesat the end of the road if you make it, long after youve adjusted to all the material perks: a better shot at meaning and a better shot at happiness that comes from being able to befriend cool people.
So why do many people warn, Be careful what you wish for?
Given these benefits, among others, why do wise people often admonish youth who dream of vast wealth to be careful what you wish for? Just the other month, for example, Kevin Kelly, one of the most interesting men in the world, said, You dont want to have a billion dollars. You really dont.
To be sure, theres always the question of whether Kellyand even meare just being self-protective. Were not billionaires and likely never will be. We probably like to tell ourselves a story that we never wanted what we will never be able to get. But I do believe theres something to Kellys advice.
First, having money just aint what it used to be. Thats a fact of the modern age. Just 100 years ago, the ultra wealthy enjoyed privileges average folk could never access: fresh food, medicine, information, a safe childbirth, etc. Today, theres a tiny difference between the rich and the American middle class in terms of quality of life. Today, no Americans will die in childbirth. Virtually all have access good cheap food, can fly anywhere in the world for less than a thousand bucks, access all the worlds knowledge and culture with a click of the mouse, and so on. As my friend Tyler Cowen has noted, what average people in America share with the super rich Bill Gates is far more significant than what we dont share with him. Gates has a bigger house than you or me, but for what really matters, were the same.
Second, as Tony Robbins says, Your quality of life is determined by the quality of your relationships.Any person you befriend while you are atop a perch of power is just trying to get something from youor so you suspect, and suspicion alone is enough to careen a relationship. Theres a reason that many presidents, including President Obama, declared no new friends upon entering the White House. Existing friends can morph, too: an old pal who you considered a peer asks you for a loan to make a house payment, and suddenly theres a hard-to-ignore power dynamic. When you see jealously in the eyes of the people you know, something changes.
Those changes in the nature of your relationships can make you lonely. Being super rich can be lonely because, as a character in Jonathan Franzens latest novel Purity says, people around you constantly project themselves onto youIts as if youre not even there as a person. Youre merely an object that people project their idealism onto, or their anger, or what have you. [And] if you try to talk about [the perils of being rich and famous], some young woman in Oakland, California will accuse you of self-pity.
Third, with great power and wealth come great expectations to lead a purposeful life. What should I do with my life? is a question every thinking person grapples with. Kevin Kelly notes this question weighs heavier on good-conscience billionaires: If you are a good person, the weight and duty of being responsible with the billions you have becomes a burden. And then it almost becomes criminal to pass that burden onto your kids. So what do you do with it but pay more attention to the billions. It is very hard not to have it run your life.
Fourth, money changes your sense of morality, and usually not for the better. Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, whos run various studies examining the behavior of the rich, says, As you move up the class ladder, you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others.Im not sure how much stock to put in these studies. What I do believe is that being super rich disconnects you from the day to day vicissitudes that define the experiences of most of your fellow humans. If you cant remember the last time you waited in line at the airport and dealt with surly TSA agents, or if its been years since you drove your own car to a supermarket, youre living in a different world than most of your fellow humans. Its harder to relate; empathy goes down; and its not surprising that its harder for the super rich to remain compassionate toward those who lead such different lives.
So how much money should you try to earn?
Perhaps wealth needs its own goldilocks story: not too much, not too little. Click here to see the rest of this essay and my take on the on the ideal amount. As Tim O'Reilly says, "Money is like gasoline while driving. You never want to run out, but the point of life is not to go on a tour of gas stations...."
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Gurdeep Kaur Lakhanpal An interesting read Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 5y
Robert Korzeniowski, MBA, PMP There's only one reason why billionaires don't want you to be one. If everyone were rich, nobody would be rich. Just look at Zimbabwe where trillionaires were the norm. $100 Trillion Zim dollar notes are now historical collectors items. Remember what Syndrome said "if everyone is a super, nobody's a super" Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 5y
Jason Marturano I did a video of a site I'm using. You might be interested in this. Watch "Investing with Bitconnect" on YouTube https://youtu.be/2Q9-H3J2AhM Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 5y
LinkedIn User Just be content with what you have. If you feel that you have too much, give it to someone that you believe can be bettered by it. I'm a Senior in college who is about to graduate, but I know other students who who really want to be at that college. They work 2 jobs, do the best that they can in school and can still barely make ends meet (our college requires our bill to be paid in full before we can graduate). So, being that I have my own bill paid in full and am "content" with my privileges in having it paid off, I used a little bit of what I had leftover to help someone else who works hard to get through school. That's not to make me better because *I* helped them, but it makes *them* better because it helps *them*. And that's what makes having money a good thing. I mean sure, provide for yourself, give yourself a luxury from time to time... but also help others. That will make you even more happy. - Just a thought from a 23 year old Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 1 Like 6y
Trent Simmons What a joke. The "cons" of being super rich summed up: 1)Its not that great anymore, 2)More people will want to be your friends or want something from you 3)You have more pressure to do something with your life, you can't just be a playboy and 4)Having money changes your morality. Wrong, chasing money, craving money, being fearful of losing what you have, that's what changes your morality. To blame it on money is delusional and a refusal to accept personal responsibility. Articles like this are such a waste of time and space. Please try to do something more meaningful with your life Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 3 Likes 6y
Patricia Tramble Thank you. Insight. Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 6y
Adam Pepper Awesome quote to end with Ben. Nice post. "Money is like gasoline while driving. You never want to run out, but the point of life is not to go on a tour of gas stations...." Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 1 Like 6y
Brenda ButlerWord True. Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 6y
James Mohan- Varacheril I have never become a rich man. Every month I check whether I will be able to manage things around me with the money in my pocket. There exists an uncertainity. But somehow I manage. I find a different thrill in that. Wow. And according to my intuition, character is the real richness. Valuable post. Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 6y
Brandon Hoyer ⭐ Dear Mr. Casnocha, Thank you for the insightful article; I'm grateful to have further insight into wealthy peoples' lives, as I've only had glimpses. It is true, as you say, that wealthy individuals struggle on several levels--it's not so simple to be happy and rich. My apologies if my own experience around "less fortunate" (i.e. less wealthy) individuals has clouded my judgement and yet it would seem you underplay the difference between the 20% and the rest of humanity. As you allude to, the infant mortality rate in the western world is indeed thankfully low and yet the middle class is largely gone and the majority of people have yet still far more pressing concerns beyond the birth of their child over the next 20 or so years due to limited finances. In conclusion, as I stand at the end of a production line working this temporary job, I see several tired faces this night. They've been working eight months nearly every week 10+ hours/day 7 days/wk. Some of them wish they were with family and living a different life. I wonder how me might get these two seemingly polar opposite individuals in the same room and figure out how both can lighten their burden? Best, Brandon Like Sign in to like this comment Reply Sign in to reply to this comment 6y See more comments
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