July 16, 2018
Once upon a time those achieving success through the accumulation of wealth were generally admired, and even envied. Over more recent years that same group has increasingly faced criticism to the point of derision, unless of course you happen to be a successful athlete or tech guru. But how do the rich really feel about themselves? Boston Private, a wealth management and private banking firm, recently published a study of 300 high net worth Americans which sought to understand their priorities, feelings, and goals. The results confirm much of what we might expect, including identifying a level of conscience and awareness which suggests that the rich might be human after all.
One of the most significant findings of the survey was that people most commonly pursue wealth to achieve emotional goals, particularly ‘peace of mind’ and ‘happiness’. Older people tend to be more focused on peace of mind, while the younger generation saw wealth as a path towards happiness. Maybe peace of mind begins to equate to happiness with advancing years? The more controversial drivers of wealth accumulation, such as a desire for affluence, power and influence, ranked lower down the list. The respondents also identified wealth as being key to having quality of life, financial security and freedom, with a happy family life being another significant factor.
The survey, however, did not simply portray the rich as enjoying lives of unending hedonism. Along with positive feelings of satisfaction and even excitement, came emotions such as gratitude and responsibility. There was a strong sense that the rich do not take their status for granted, and recognize that having wealth brings responsibility to future generations and to society. High net worth people tend to suffer some feelings of guilt and regret, particularly in relation to sacrifices they have made, such as not spending enough time with their families. The sense of guilt may also be one of the drivers behind a desire to give back to society.
The conflict between the positive and negatives emotions around wealth was most pronounced for business owners. The analysis of the survey results even suggested that the reality for wealthy business owners was a type of “illusory happiness”. The downsides of the process of accumulating wealth cover not just loss of family time, but having an inappropriate work/life balance and failing to take care of health issues. Moreover, business owners tend to be concerned about what others think of them, and are worried about losing their hard-won assets. Some of these feelings might be driven by the fact that business owners are likely to be involved in work that involves higher levels of risk, with less clear outcomes, as compared with non-business owners
All in all, the Boston Private survey confirms that it is positive to have wealth, even at the risk of catching some level of affluenza. The survey also suggests that the effective emotional management of wealth may be helped by developing clear financial goals and plans to improve understanding of issues such as when enough is enough.