Imagine, for a moment, that you are a member of the super-rich, one of the fabled 1 per cent, that exclusive club that has more money than the rest of us put together. Lucky you. You exist on a plane where whim is the reason you get out of bed each morning: the purchase of a tropical island, the acquisition of more gold taps for your bathroom. Your wardrobe – which is walk-in, naturally – might even boast more Jimmy Choos than Victoria Beckham's (also walk-in). The 99 per cent languish beneath you in perpetual soft-focused toil and struggle, and life is good, right?
Wrong. In 2015, you, hypothetical moneybags, have been bestowed with a conscience, and your bank balance is starting to feel like a burden. You need help. (You can afford it.) Your condition even has its own name now: wealth fatigue syndrome. And there are an increasing number of specialist therapists on hand to help, and from whom you will receive what you likely won't from the rest of society: a sympathetic ear.
“The media's idea of the 1 per cent is people that go out all the time and party, and buy cars, and keep spending,” says Jamie Traeger-Muney, an American psychologist practising in Israel, and the founder of the Wealth Legacy Group, which aims to help the wealthy “lead a rich life”. “But my clients have more sense of conflict over their wealth. They feel lucky and privileged, yes, but they also have unique problems to deal with, and my work is to make them feel more comfortable with their status, to help them see what positive changes they can make in their lives.”
Many such millionaires, she suggests, struggle with the safety nets into which they were born – and statistics show that most were indeed born into wealth; few make it themselves. They often go to great lengths to conceal their fortune in social circles in an attempt to pass themselves off as “normal”. “There is a lot of secrecy around wealth, especially with friends,” she says, suggesting that many are scared to “come out” if they are the kind of person that cannot just foot the bill in any restaurant they visit, but buy the restaurant, too.
In New York, a therapist called Clay Cockrell has a growing speciality in the problems of the über wealthy. His clients range from those with a couple of million in the bank, to those that could buy France, and still have change for Belgium. What unifies them, he says, “is a certain amount of guilt about it. And they often face very serious problems: isolation, a lack of motivation” – the very problems revealed by the billionaire Minecraft designer Markus Persson in a series of tweets last summer. Another problem, says Cockrell, is how to raise children in such an environment. One need only look at the world of celebrity – hello Justin Bieber – to see that living within a world of perpetual whim and privilege is no guarantee for perpetual happiness.“It is natural for parents to want to protect their children and to not have hardships, but they forget that struggle builds character and gives you perseverance, grit, determination. When they don't have that, they become spoilt.”
So what is the solution? Bill Gates would suggest excessive philanthropy, while many a hip-hop impresario seems quite happy building entertainment empires and funding youth projects. But still there is struggle. Mo' money, as the sage put it (specifically, in this case, Biggie Smalls), mo' problems.
“In the past 50 years, we have gone from spending almost all of our income on food and shelter, to having all this extra money to do all sorts of things with,” says Dr Bernard Burchell, a reader at the University of Cambridge's sociology department. And so while our knee-jerk reaction is to resent the rich, we also desperately covet their fortunes.
“Money equates to status,” Dr Burchell adds, “which is why we get so concerned about our pay rises each year, especially when our colleagues might get a little more than us. It's a subject that endlessly obsesses us.”
And so we will continue to demonise the 1 per cent, which is easy – and, whisper it, fun – to do as long as we keep two-dimensionalising them. But as Jamie Traeger-Muney points out, the rich are people, too.
“This isn't a request to the world to please, boo-hoo, feel sorry for the wealthy,” she says. “Therapy is just a way to provide a safe place for them to have a conversation to help them figure things out. And at the end of the day, we all deserve that, right?”