Why do so many ultra-wealthy Americans seem to come across as deeply unhappy people?
The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker recently spoke with several people who have researched the lives of the mega-rich and he found that rich people are often miserable because they are in constant competition with one another to see which one of them has the most money and the highest status.
Jeffrey Winters, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, tells Pinsker that the wealthy don’t even care about buying newer and more expensive things with their fortunes — rather, it’s the thrill of acquiring money for its own sake that makes them tick.
“There’s no number at which you have enough,” he tells Pinsker. “Every billionaire I’ve spoken to, and I’ve spoken to quite a number of them, is extremely excited by each additional increment of money they make.”
Brooke Harrington, a professor at the Copenhagen Business School, similarly says that rich people are no longer interested in acquiring more things once they reach a certain level of wealth, but rather making sure they have more money than other rich people in their peer groups.
“Feeling wealthy is about comparison with others in your reference group,” she says. “So the question is not what individuals want to buy, but what they feel they must buy in order to keep up their status.”
And Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, tells Pinsker that the ultra-rich have routinely told him that they will not be happy unless they acquire “two or three times as much” money as what they have right now — and even then, it might not be enough.