The Fascinating Reason Many Billionaires Get Depressed (And How They Snap Out Of It)
In the late 1990s, the internet created thousands of millionaires — and a handful of billionaires — in Silicon Valley.
The entrepreneurs who rode the wave early and bailed out before it crashed in the early aughts suddenly found themselves in an unfamiliar position: having worked 80-hour weeks at internet startups for the past few years, they now no longer needed to work at all. Ever.
For the millionaires, smart financial planning meant a comfortable life and the freedom to pursue new things.
For the billionaires, champagne baths every morning and new Lamborghinis every afternoon couldn't deplete the fathomless amount of cash on hand. "Your entire philosophy of money changes," writes author Richard Frank in his book, "Richistan." "You realize that you can't possibly spend all of your fortune, or even part of it, in your lifetime, and that your money will probably grow over the years even if you spend lavishly."
There are dotcom entrepreneurs who could live top 1% American lifestyles and not run out of cash for 4,000 years. People who Bill Simmons would call "pajama rich," so rich they can go to a five-star restaurant or sit courtside at the NBA playoffs in their pajamas. They have so much money that they have nothing to prove to anyone.
And the strange thing is that a striking number of them get totally depressed.
To get out of the funk, say Joan DiFuria and Stephen Goldbart, cofounders of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, depressed successes simply have to start the Olympic rings over. This is why so many people who don't need more money still create new businesses. It's why others parlay their success sideways to get into philanthropy. And it's why billionaires like Groupon's Andrew Mason and Microsoft's Paul Allen start bands. Even if their subsequent endeavors are small, they can hold depression at bay by making progress on, well, anything.
They don't have to do something bigger or better to be happy. They just have to keep moving.
This is what psychologist Karl Weick of the University of Michigan calls "Small Wins." "A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance," he wrote in a seminal paper for American Psychologist in 1984. "Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win."
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