As Jay-Z looks to make the leap from millionaire to billionaire, Angela Waters talks to wealth experts to see why we keep our eyes on the lives of the rich and how it affects us.
It may be impolite to talk about money, but this has yet to stop us from following the wealthy through news sites, reality TV or on the ‘gram. We love rags to riches stories, eagerly watch the fall of empires to personal ruin, and buy the books of executives to learn the secrets of amassing a fortune. But what is behind our fascination with shiny things and the people they belong to?
According to most money experts it has a lot to do with a flawed correlation between more money and increased happiness, which has given us a bit of a complex when it comes to those who are doing better than us financially.
“We have a love-hate relationship with wealth,” Brad Klontz founder of the Financial Psychology Institute told Highsnobiety. “We have these negative beliefs about money such as money corrupts, rich people are greedy, and family money means that you are aimless and lack creativity.”
While studying people’s relationship to wealth, Klontz also found that the same people who associate negative traits to wealthy people also believe that wealth would change their lives for the better. The end result gives us the same psychological fascination with rich people as with the popular kids in school — we love to hate them, but are also desperate to be them. It turns out that the more closely we relate to their stories, the stronger we dislike them.
“We tend to have hostile and negative beliefs about people who have what we want and look like us, be it a shared culture, gender, race or background. When we feel envy we like to think about how that person is not deserving of the advantage they have,” Klontz said.
But we are not just hate-watching the rich. Rachel Davis Mersey a professor of Journalism at Northwestern says that if we feel removed enough from the wealthy, following their lives can actually give us a break from our own.
“The media coverage of the one percent is also there to provide what we might call psychological release or escapism,” Mersey told Highsnobiety. “I can set my own problems and challenges aside for a moment to escape in an alternative world.”
This can explain some of the success of TV networks such as Bravo, which specializes in the lifestyles of the wealthy with a collection of Real Housewife series that take viewers into the mansions and jets of the ultra-rich.
There are also practical reasons to keep abreast on the opinions and activities of the rich. They are naturally more likely to be engaged in newsworthy businesses or political deals that affect our everyday lives.
“The wealthy have more ability to take action,” Mersey said. “If I am wealthy and there is a pothole outside of my building I may be more likely to know more about who to contact to fix it and I may even socialize with them. Celebrities are the quintessential access, anyone will take their phone call.”
Being Rich Is Like Being From Another Country
There is truth to the cliché that money changes people, in fact according to Klontz’s research it is the only way to hold on to it.
“So much of our money behavior is focused on our financial comfort zone,” he said. “If you really want to get above your comfort zone or live successfully below your financial comfort zone, you have to learn a new culture. The ones that are successful are the ones that embrace the idea that they are going to have to enter into a new tribe.”
This explains why lottery winners have a notoriously difficult time holding on to their millions. Dealing with the envy of your neighbors who now see you as a rich person and not knowing other rich people and the customs of your new world can produce real anxiety, similar to that of being in a foreign country. To cope with this, the winners will often try to get back to where they were by losing it all.
Klontz says that this can also be the case with people born into a rich, dysfunctional family.
“If you grow up in a very wealthy family and the family around you wasn’t so wealthy you have a sense that you don’t belong so you will consciously or unconsciously make sure that you do not have so much money,” he said.
According to Jamie Traeger-Muney of Wealth Legacy Group, who works with the one percent on how to leverage their net worth, there is a natural disconnect between parents who have risen to wealth and their offspring that inherited it.
“How do you raise children, especially if you didn’t grow up with that kind of wealth?” she said. “You have the culture of the old country, middle-class living, not of the ultra-ultra-wealthy. You want to raise kids that have values similar to yours who have a work ethic and motivation. How do you instill that in them if they don’t necessarily ever have to work for pay to survive?”
The Difference Between Multi-Millionaires and Billionaires
Having a million dollars does not mean what it used to, but there is still a distinction between multi-millionaires and billionaires and it is not always better to have more.
Although Traeger-Muney says that the habits of her clients are not strictly linked to their net worth, she does see a difference that comes after fortunes add the third comma.
“If you are a millionaire you are still thinking about budgeting in your life,” she said. “Most millionaires aren’t retiring and living on their savings. When you reach into the billions, you are looking at doing things that are unpaid and how you are spending your life.”
Still, when it comes to legacy and inheritance: mo money mo problems. “People think the more money the better. There are great freedoms that come with wealth but also unique challenges. There is a lot of responsibility when you are talking about that much wealth and kids inheriting.”
While it is common for celebrities to earn million-dollar paychecks for movies or albums, billionaires remain distinct. This is because in order to make the transition, actors, singers or models have to go beyond their talent to become business people.
“A mistake that many notable people make is that since they have such success as an actor that they can start a clothing line and be successful,” says Klontz. “While they may have studied acting for 20 years, they can rarely become a retailer within a year.”
Billionaires are not necessarily happier
Despite the extra effort that goes into turning million into billions, researchers have yet to find a difference in happiness between these groups.
Money may be able to buy statistical happiness, but only to a certain point. Researchers at Princeton found that people were happier with more money until household income reached $75,000/year; after this the effects seemed to level off. Yet the findings have done little to curb ambition.
People often say you can never be too thin or too rich, but neither anorexia nor being a workaholic is good for you. “There is a belief that there is never enough money that people usually get from their childhood experience,” Klontz said. “People become workaholics because they are pinning their self-esteem to net worth and it is never enough. Happiness is an inside job.”
This can be difficult to keep in mind as media exposure increases, showing us things we do not have. “As media inserts itself deeper and deeper into our lives it increases that sense of relative deprivation and makes us feel like we are not okay. This ties into overspending, over-using credit and a lot of American financial problems. It is not an issue of greed, it is an issue of that tribal brain wanting to fit in and connect,” Klontz said.
Next up; Yovanna Ventura talks YEEZY, workouts and Instagram dos and don’ts.
- Main & Featured Image: Johnny Nunez / WireImage / Getty Images
- Words: Angela Waters