The Null Device

Money can buy misery

Don't envy the super-rich, this article says; their wealth has almost certainly made them miserable:
According to de Vries, the super-rich are increasingly succumbing to what has been labelled Wealth Fatigue Syndrome (WFS). When money is available in near-limitless quantities, the victim sinks into a kind of inertia.
"The rich are never happy, no matter what they have," he told CNN. "There was this man who owned a 100ft yacht. I said: 'This is a terrific boat.' He said: 'Look down the harbour.' We looked down the marina, and there were boats two and three times as large. He said: 'My 100ft yacht today is like a dinghy compared to these other boats.' When else in history has someone been able to call a 100ft yacht a dinghy?"
Some of our friends have jumped from nice five-bedroom houses in South Kensington to gated mansions in St John's Wood, complete with hot and cold running staff. But many who join the super-rich find it hard to keep their old circles of support. Happiness studies have repeatedly shown that being marginally better off than your neighbours makes you feel good, but being a hundred times richer makes you feel worse. So either you change your friends or live with the envy of others.
The article goes on to expound numerous other causes of wealth-induced misery: social support networks break down, as relationships with old friends are strained by the wealth disparity and poisoned by real or perceived envy; and all the cars, yachts and new houses your money can buy you just become boring much more quickly. (It's the hedonic treadmill effect, where one becomes acclimatised to one's level of comfort and contentment, it takes even more to not succumb to ennui.) Meanwhile, the wives of the super-rich (and most of the super-rich are men; presumably husbands of super-rich women or gay partners would suffer the same) suffer the same psychological consequences as the unemployed (that is, when they're not traded in for younger, prettier models), and their children, shuttled between nannies and estates, often end up clinically depressed.

The conclusion is that money can buy happiness — but only up to a point. A key component of happiness is social connectedness, of the sort that cannot be bought:

The happiest nations, he says, are those where people feel most equal, even if that means being less wealthy. Pentecost, a tiny island in the South Pacific, has recently been voted the happiest place on earth. They don't have WFS – in fact, they don't have money; they use pigs' horns instead.
In places such as Pentecost, people actually talk to each other – indeed, belonging to a community is one of the single most important prerequisites for happiness.

There are 3 comments on "Money can buy misery":

Posted by: Derek Tue Nov 20 21:27:23 2007

Haw haw, suck it up, rich bastards!

Posted by: Krapster Tue Nov 20 21:45:24 2007

Not really surprised - the nouveau riche have always looked to me like they're not really comfortable. That's why I've always promised myself that if ever strike it rich, I'll make sure to share my wealth. Good friends are more important than almost anything else.

And hey, if you're out there, wondering what to do with all that money; look me up.

Posted by: dj Wed Nov 21 02:04:17 2007

The sad thing is that the mental illness that these people have doesn't stop them from taking great joy in fucking up the lives of other people and doing their best to stop the rest of us from making our societies better places to live.