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Ask HN: How do billionaires deal with their anxiety?
68 points by mkovji 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments

The same way non-billionaires do: there isn’t anything that money can do about it. While ‘only’ worth $150m, Katherine Brosnahan (you may know as Kate Spade) tragically hanged herself last week after suffering for a few years. If $150m can’t buy you out of it, I’m not sure another $850m would.


They can quit stressful jobs, or immediately get appointments with great healthcare providers, or go travel in Europe for a year.

Let's be fair: money can't solve all your problems, but it can solve some of them.

The only problem is that serious mental illness is one of those things that money can't magically fix.

Unlimited wealth can also cause its own set of problems and anxieties that run deeper than "which bank should I use" or "which whim should I indulge next".

E.G. Does someone like me or do they just like my money? What should I do with my life now that I'm unfulfilled by indulging my whims?

As a student in Japan, I was introduced to businessmen, to teach English, during their real estate boom. They just so happened to be the children of fathers who had buildings near the Imperial Palace, so became rich (on paper, 100MM+ USD) through no effort. Their lives were about as devoid of happiness that I have ever seen. After partying, hookers, golf, eating at every gourmet place in town, and foreign trips, life became uninspiring and they were a morose bunch to hang out with for dinner and drinks after our language classes. No thanks. A person needs purpose to enjoy life.

> unfulfilled by indulging my whims

You see, that's what I don't get. There are _so_ many things to do that interest me. I will never have enough time to do them.

Yes, but you might still have enough time to morph into a person who finds doing all that stuff unfulfilling. Humans are amazing at adaptation.

It's an extension of graduation depression in a way. You have essentially succeeded at the most advertised metric of life, money. If you view life as a linear progression of growing success, then that's the logical conclusion. Good job, you win.

And I'd guess this is also why midlife crises are a thing. Once you've got your beautiful family, house, car and stable job, what's next?

Apologies if this is pedantic but, just the opposite, mid-life crises arise because of the realization that the gap between your accomplishments and your ideals is larger than you thought it would be by the time you reached middle age.

Seems strange trying to define precisely why people might have a crisis in the middle of their life, as if there would be a single reason.

this is not pedantic if it's the definition of a mid life crisis (I don't know), but just wrong if people worry about different things :-)

Yeah, though one can imagine that being a billionaire also introduces some problems. For one thing it changes family and friend dynamics and that's really a key source of happiness.

It's the same problem that comes from excelling at anything valued, or having any intensely desired quality. You don't know why people want to be around you, and you don't know whether they will still be there if (or when) you no longer have those qualities deemed so desirable.

Not the same, not even close.

Capital is abstracted value that everybody needs. The differences this makes in such a situation is drastically more disorienting.

>and you don't know whether they will still be there if (or when) you no longer have those qualities deemed so desirable

This phenomenon is heartbreaking and surely happens with things like talents and innate characteristics, personality, etc., but it would be very rare with those compared to with capital. When it concerns capital, the issue becomes exponentially more common with exponentially less potential to be understood. When it's happening with more people in a society, it's instances collide and fracture relationships at a far greater rate.

Abstraction and everybody...

That really depends on how you look at what a 'self' and what 'everybody' is, and how 'abstraction' interrelates the two.

Consider an artist in relation to their culture.

Not disagreeing at all, but "being a billionaire" is a poor articulation of the culprit.

The havoc capitalism plays on social relationships has been documented, researched for centuries. This is the very core of Marxist thought, and to my knowledge has never been contested.

Since you're probably an American and I just referenced Karl Marx, let's please remember Karl Marx was in fact insistent on the importance of democracy (far more than most Americans) and that anyone familiar with his work would have no question of the vast differences between and his well-known disapproval of the Soviet Union defending their project with his work.

Another problem I see with capitalism is that since competition is the prevailing theme, there is a sort of "fog of war" about.

Karl Marx died decades before the Soviet Union was formed. Where do you people come up with this stuff?

-t. Someone who has actually read Marx’s drivel.

Even the problems money can’t solve, it can often help (eg, money can’t vuy happiness but a year long trip might be the change you needed to find happiness) or at least remove other worries.

But of course as others have said, it brings another set of worries.

Still, money is an enabler that creates options.

In other words, money is a tool. People get happiness not from tools, but what can be done with them.

That is a great summary, thanks!

And unfortunately programming is a tool.

I'm guessing you aren't aware that Kate Spade had sold her company years ago.

I'm not aware of Kate Spade, but I feel like the prior poster's

> The only problem is that serious mental illness is one of those things that money can't magically fix.

covers it pretty well, no?

She had a new company, so she still had a stressful job: https://francesvalentine.com/

(One anecdote does not contradict the general point.)

"They can quit stressful jobs, or immediately get appointments with great healthcare providers, or go travel in Europe for a year."

I believe I know what you mean. I disagree. I have no experience being a billionaire, or a millionaire for that matter, however here are my casual observations and thoughts:

A billionaire cannot just quit a job. There must be a transition period. A billionaire can't just no call no show. It's possible, but it never happens.

A billionaire cannot travel to Europe like I can, going from Airbnb to airbnb, hopping in an Uber, surfing with the locals, enjoying fish tacos. A billionaire ends up being an ambassador with little privacy.

Immediately get appointments with great healthcare providers. Maybe. But so can I.

> A billionaire cannot travel to Europe like I can, going from Airbnb to airbnb, hopping in an Uber, surfing with the locals, enjoying fish tacos. A billionaire ends up being an ambassador with little privacy.

Thats what the founder of MySpace does now.


> A billionaire cannot just quit a job. There must be a transition period. A billionaire can't just no call no show. It's possible, but it never happens.

They absolutely can. A board may not want to publicize the sudden leave, which might contribute to not hearing about it. The whatsapp founders left Facebook pretty quickly, although not for mental health reasons.

It also takes a certain kind of workaholic to reach billionaire levels of wealth. If you've already made it to that kind of egg, you may just have a good handle on anxiety.

> A billionaire cannot travel to Europe like I can, going from Airbnb to airbnb, hopping in an Uber, surfing with the locals, enjoying fish tacos.

They absolutely can. Maybe not someone who has intentionally made their image part of their personal brand, but could you pick Jim Walton or Micheal Bloomberg out of a lineup? And they're two of the very richest billionaires — not the mere single-digit billionaires.

> A billionaire ends up being an ambassador with little privacy.

I don't think that's true at all. Money buys privacy.

> Immediately get appointments with great healthcare providers. Maybe. But so can I.

The silent follow-up clause to that sentence is "... and not have to think about the cost." (Assuming our billionaire is from the US.)

I think you are lumping all billionaires into the "celebratory billionaire" category. Sure Mark Zuckerberg can no longer zoom around Europe without being recognized, but how many would recognize Len Blavatnik, #46 on Forbes billionare list worth $21B (for example).

> how many would recognize Len Blavatnik, #46 on Forbes billionare list worth $21B (for example)?

Exactly. Or even the Waltons, two of the Forbes top-15. If their image isn't part of their public brand, you probably wouldn't recognize them.

> A billionaire cannot just quit a job. There must be a transition period. A billionaire can't just no call no show. It's possible, but it never happens.

It's not called "quitting". It's usually "taking a sabbatical" or "a leave of absence". It's only "quitting" if you don't make very much.

> A billionaire ends up being an ambassador with little privacy.

Would you recognize any billionaire (besides maybe Bill Gates) on sight? Ask the hotel to be discreet and don't pay for things by saying "hi I'm pricees, the world-renowned billionaire."

> Immediately get appointments with great healthcare providers. Maybe. But so can I.

Good for you? In America, that's not the norm. Excellent healthcare is available for high cost here, but getting a expert doctor to make a house-call requires some degree of cachet.

> A billionaire cannot just quit a job. There must be a transition period. A billionaire can't just no call no show.

Not only that, I imagine that quitting before retirement age could add a lot of anxiety for a billionaire due to loss of status, loss of purpose, feelings of failure, etc.

A billionaire has options though. They can often come back, or they can start a new company on a whim, but, as others have said, they often don’t “quit” but rather take extended time out that leaves them with the option of returning, when they choose to do so.

Some of the most advanced and effective mental health retreats are EXTREMELY expensive. Upwards of 2000 dollars a day.

You can use some of that money to buy Alprazolam / Clonazepam :-). They're available as relatively inexpensive generics at this point. Maybe not an option if you are totally broke / impoverished, but certainly something billionaires have access to.

You said this in at least 2 different places in this thread, but I hope you understand that 1) all drugs do not have the same effects on different patients and 2) Clonazepam is in the class of drugs known as benzodiapines, which are considered some of the most dangerous and addicting drugs given to patients. In fact, bad withdrawals from benzodiapines often result in worsened anxiety symptoms and at times hallucinations and even delusions.

Throwing around alprazolam/clonazepam as a solution for anxiety is trite and can be damaging. Take caution with them.

> You said this in at least 2 different places in this thread

Only one, as far as I know. Not sure where this other phantom comment is supposed to be.

> Clonazepam is in the class of drugs known as benzodiapines

I'm not sure why you picked that one in particular; Alprazolam is as well (and is perhaps the more well-known one). I'm sure you know this, but to clarify for other readers, most benzodiazepines (including these two) are in a category of drugs known as anxiolytics, as in, drugs which reduce anxiety.

> which are considered some of the most dangerous and addicting drugs given to patients

Wikipedia mostly disagrees with that claim.[0] Nevertheless, even taking the claim at face value, they are given to patients because they do have great therapeutic use, or at least little harm, for the vast majority.

And in general, Alprazolam's shorter duration of action probably lends itself more to abuse than Clonazepam — hence first-line preference for Clonazepam in treatment.

> Throwing around alprazolam/clonazepam as a solution for anxiety is trite and can be damaging.

I did not intend to suggest they're some kind of magic bullet. Re-reading my comment, maybe it suggests that. Sorry!

Sure, they don't necessarily solve the underlying problem. But they are a useful tool, and certainly may help.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_harmfulness

So I think hacker news either did some magic (?) to have it show up in two places at once or someone copied your comment word-for-word. Anyway:

> I'm not sure why you picked that one in particular

No particular reason. They use the same general mechanisms so I lazily chose to only include one.

> Wikipedia mostly disagrees with that claim.

I don't know what to believe on Wikipedia articles about drugs because of the high prevalence of biased medical research. All I know is 1) anecdotally I've experienced benzo withdrawal - it's not pretty and 2) statistically speaking, benzo withdrawal is a common enough phenomenon that much care goes into warning patients of the dangers of benzos and the appropriate usage approaches.

Anyway not tryna persecute you, I just saw this text twice in the thread and felt like it appeared dilletante in addressing benzo usage. Didn't want self-medicating types (like many people on hnews) to screw themselves up.

There’s issues with benzos like the one you mentioned. Besides what the other commenter said about withdrawal and other issues, your tolerance will build very quickly with benzos. You can’t just take them daily and have the same or even remotely close to the same effect.

I certainly did not mean to suggest that they were some magic bullet, or that anyone should take them daily for extended periods of time. Your doctor should work with you to determine the correct dose and duration. Or if you self-medicate, you should thoroughly research anything you're thinking about taking before doing so. Benzos can be taken daily for something like a month.[0]

[0]: https://www.jpshealthnet.org/sites/default/files/prescribing...

That’s just not true, taking it for a month daily will not work. I haven’t looked at studies recently but the few psychiatrists I know, none believe you can take a bento for a month daily with it still being effective. Same with people taking it. Placebo can be a powerful thing.

That contention does not match my understanding, but I would love to read more if you have some published studies to point to.

Taking the claim at face value: if the effect at one month is entirely placebo, isn't that still useful for treatment?

(You're not trying to claim that the entire effect on day 1 is placebo, right? I think that's pretty clearly false.)

There was an excellent article on this in the Atlantic on the "Secret Fears of the Super Rich"[1]. The Atlantic article matches my (secondary) experience: while I am (emphatically!) not in this camp (I definitely need to work to pay my mortgage!), I have several close friends who are outrageously wealthy, and I have observed that their lives are not made less stressful by their wealth -- but the specifics change. For example, there is great anxiety about how to raise their kids, especially for those who were not themselves raised in wealth: they are torn between providing their kids those things that they did not themselves have while still having their kids seek those things that they themselves sought. This is much harder to square than it might sound, and I don't think that there's a pat answer -- though I would observe that the ones I know with the fewest problems are those that are the least ostentatious with their wealth.

None of this serves to answer the question of how they deal with it, but rather to confirm what we probably all know: while money makes certain things in life easier, it is not a cure for all ills.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/04/secret-...

I think the kid question is easy. Yes, you give them things you did not have but you also have to foster a sense of respect of the privileges they may have now that others do not. You can also have them earn things as well with whatever that might be. Your childhood is different then theirs qualitatively, temporally and situationally. And I think what kids really want and need is quality time with their parents regardless.

If we're talking about the anxieties that come from, say, the nagging sense that "there should be more than this to life; i have everything, why aren't i happy?": The wise ones give all their money away. "Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!"

Not to be confused with the (damaging) ideas of the "prosperity gospel", Andrew Carnegie wrote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gospel_of_Wealth , and now we have libraries.

Bill Gates is busy trying his hardest to stomp out malaria.

Paul Allen is trying his best to do as much blue-sky biomedical research as possible.


Even if, perhaps especially if,you came into your riches by unscrupulous ways, seeing that your surplus wealth is sunk into things that matter will help you sleep better at night -- because, indeed, you're doing what you ought to be doing.

Most of the answers here are assuming that we are talking about the same kind of anxieties everyone faces. Which to some extent is true. But I've spent some time around celebrities and billionaires and I don't think that's totally an accurate take. They have different problems from you and me.

For the most part they don't have the day to day anxieties about money and what things cost of course. And also they have less of the sort of existential dread that their lives won't matter, as they are surrounded by a lot of evidence they are important.

From what I can tell the main anxiety comes from the drastic effect it has on interpersonal relationships. When you have a tremendous amount of money and status you necessarily have a very hard time trusting people, and you're likely to face a near constant inundation of people who want things from you, and who often are being disingenuous about their intentions.

It's exhausting. For the most part they deal with those anxieties by finding ways to get out of that situation by surrounding themselves with people that have similar money and status, removing themselves to isolated or exclusive places, and so on.

This will come as a shocker, and It's not commonly known, but there's quite a bit of research accumulating, showing that extreme electrolyte imbalances such as magnesium deficiencies can exacerbate or even cause anxiety and depression. It's closely linked to our Calcium intake (which is often waaayyy too high for people who really like dairy - it's higher than you think because the US recommendation is twice what it should be: 1000mg vs the WHOs recommendation of 500mg - this means if the label says you got 30% of DRI of calcium, you actually got 60% or more!). Too much Calcium inhibits the absorbtion of magnesium, thus compounding the issue even more. Some studies even show, that with calcium intake increased, their depression levels. And with increased magnesium intake, depression levels decrease: "Case histories are presented showing rapid recovery (less than 7 days) from major depression using 125-300 mg of magnesium (as glycinate and taurinate) with each meal and at bedtime"

Here's one of the studies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16542786

But, there's several more.

Back to the question: With all their money, they could probably afford to eat the very best foods and could higher a nutritionist to help them plan high magnesium foods. For everyone else without all that money, there's always my nutrient based food/recipe finder: https://kale.world/c

Use it to find the most Magnesium dense foods or any other nutrient for that matter.

I don't know any billionaires, but I have known some fairly successful people whose success grew out of their anxieties (at least in part). They were not comfortable being vulnerable, ordinary people so they acquired degrees and titles and money and power to hide behind when dealing with other people.

So I will suggest that in some cases the answer may be that becoming a billionaire is part of how they dealt with their anxieties.

I think I can answer this because I asked this to Elon Musk around a year ago. Billionaires have higher anxiety and relentless stress. They just hide it from the world. Many develop mental diseases such as anxiety, disorders etc. Here is a link to my conversation with Elon Musk: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2017/08/03/elon-musk-a...

They talk to other wealthy individuals. People with a lot of money generally have fairly small circles of friends because it becomes very hard to trust peoples' motives. Most of the people who approach you want access, money, status, or a mixture of those things. Very few really care about you as a person.

The classic "mo money, mo problems" sounds (and is) ridiculous to people without much money, but after a certain threshold it actually becomes true.

They probably see a therapist and talk about it?

I think that billionaires have better ways of dealing with it than poor people.

Could be tricky to find a therapist that can empathise with the anxious billionaire ;)

I think the majority of therapists would be able to empathize, but they might not sympathize :)

I don't think a billionaire's money buys as much relief as we might think. You could afford the best therapist but are you getting quality or just someone who can big up their reputation to justify charging you $10K per hour for the same service as every other therapist?

Money can certainly bring you suspicion of others and that can make it as hard as it does for the rest of us to get things done!

It also doesn't buy self-awareness, one of the most important starting points out of anxiety.

Disclaimer: I'm no billionaire. Just a bit older, and experiencing perhaps a bit of wisdom -- and no small measure of regret -- from my own life experiences.

Take care of your physical health, and your well-being -- including especially your day-to-day environment and social relationships.

Money makes some of this easier. On the other hand, if you don't do these things, no amount of money will fix it. (And many health problems, no amount of money can fix or undo. You want to prevent them occurring, in the first place.)

P.S. I do know a few significantly rich people who seem fairly happy. And the above is what I notice.

Financial constraints -- and bad teaching and communication about same -- kept me from addressing and moving away from some very significant stressors. Anxiety became severe and chronic and fed into a downward spiral. Despite having very high intellectual marks, from multiple sources, as well as the reputation for being a nice guy (hopefully, without the quotes: "nice guy").

Actually, earlier than that, family and school compelled me to endure chronic abuse and bullying, with no effective help from the responsible adults. That seemed to initiate the core of the anxiety.

Both the family and the rather well-endowed school system plausibly had the resources to make things different, but they didn't.

Back to my point: Pay attention, and use the money to take care of yourself and your environment. This also makes essential social connection easier -- feeling better about yourself. Best proposal I have.

Probably like anybody else although they probably have a better chance for dealing with it since they can afford to take time off to care for themselves and hire the best therapists. Otherwise they are people you and me who just happen to be good at business but this doesn't mean they are better equipped at handling other issues like mental health.

Not sure the HN community can answer this question. Or maybe some of us are billionaires?

There are no-money-problems and to-much-money-problems. I think the later is often misunderstood. Lawsuits are usually a pain, not only for billionaires but for wealthy entities in general. If people know you have a lot of money then they'll try to get a piece of the pie, including the government. So yeah, might be a little stressful.

Though my guess is that if you made to the top and became a billionaire from your hard work, then you can certainly handle stress and anxiety. You might even be a freakin guru at it.

The question makes sense as we as humans will always be worried about something. If you don't have anything to worry, you will complain about the weather. Billionaires somehow found a way to waste their time worrying about really big problems. Their level of anxiety at first will be the same, but applied to bigger things. Others might take it as a game. It all depends of course. Some people get more anxious about facts, problems. Others about dealing with other people.

They probably keep trying to find new interests that can give them hapiness. They will be active in it for a while, and then they go to the next. They might do dangerous things like climb mount everest? They have more hobbies they can choose from (since no money limit). I imagine there's a lot of things that can be harder. Especially socially, always having doubts about people.

I'm taking your question to mean "how do they deal with the normal non-formal anxieties everyone has". I'm theorizing here, I'm nowhere near a billionaire, but I've known some fairly wealthy people (though wealthy with a M, not a B).

+ Diverse investments

Instead of keeping all their eggs in one basket, they tend to be invested heavily across multiple spectrums. Oil and gas, health insurance marketplaces, real estate, etc. Even if one facet of their portfolio crashed, they wouldn't be screwed.

Many of them will even make well known subpar choices to add some "insurance", like keeping a safe full of metal silver and gold bars, or even investing in a well supplied safe room. It's not that they're expecting to use those things or make a profit from holding rare metals, but to them $20k is nothing to invest in a "just in case" fashion.

+ Multiple experts

You or me might have one doctor, they might have three or four they get opinions from. Likewise for accountants or lawyers. This gives them flexibility, better chances for good outcomes, and less likelihood of a single person being able to screw them over.

+ Outsourcing to experts

Most of us probably only go to a doctor or a lawyer when things get way out of our depth. Likewise for an electrician. Someone who is wealthy can afford to apply experts to every problem they have. Instead of only going to a lawyer when they really think things have gone wrong, every single contract can be reviewed by an expert.

+ Concierge services for when things go wrong

Ever have a flight get massively delayed or end up in the wrong city? For most of us, it sucks and we scramble to deal with it. The wealthy can afford custom concierge and assistants who can fix things in a single call. Flight stopped in the wrong city on your way to your exotic adventure? No problem, one call and you'll have train tickets and a cab booked so you don't miss anything.

This applies beyond travel. Health crises in a foreign country? Call the hotline and have a doctor show up at your hotel instantly. Lost in the mountains while hiking? Pick up the sat phone and have a rescue team scramble to your location.

+ Amazing amounts of connections

When we go to a museum and there's a crazy line, we have the choice of waiting or walking away. Someone who is wealthy and a savvy donor can call and arrange a private tour instead. Likewise for getting into sold out shows, better seats at plays, or even booking tables at restaurants. For someone massively wealthy, donating a few thousand a year to local art institutes not only looks good and has tax benefits, but costs relatively nothing and comes with amazing benefits.

Likewise, they get to mingle with actors, celebrities, important leaders, etc. Suddenly the rolodex goes from a few well known friends to an impressive array of people with amazing amounts of power.

So, basically they are playing the game with full cheat codes, nothing is a personal challenge anymore, so it gets boring/tedious quickly?

They have other challenges. A large one is the amount of work that goes into managing that kind of money - usually at any given time there are several real estate transactions going on, stocks moving, social events that are borderline mandatory from a politics side of things, etc.

There's a big concern that your money might be used illicitly or illegally, or even if you try to give it to a good cause, that it may be squandered.

You also have to worry about nutjobs who find out you have money - this leads to security, both guards and changes in how you live your life. If you have kids, their lives are probably very sheltered since kidnapping is a very real and very serious threat. Likewise for close family members.

The value of money is always a diminishing return, and eventually it can become a liability.

Snarky answer: They sleep on piles of money.

Less snarky: They have different anxieties. They don't worry about losing their house or their job. They don't worry about the monthly bills or an unexpected medical event. Instead, they worry about being back in the place where they have to worry about those things. (I think. I'm not, alas, in a position to know first-hand what billionaires are anxious about.)

So they spread their money around. "Divide your fortune into seven, or even into eight, for many are the mischances of the world" is good advice. (It's from Proverbs, in the Bible.) Billionaires do this, so that they can comfortably survive any particular investment going horribly bad.

Then, I suspect, the more aware billionaires worry about their effect on people. They can throw money at friends' and relatives' problems, but that may actually cause more harm than good. I don't know how they deal with that - maybe by having a fixed policy of what they will and won't do, and not deviating from it no matter how good the story sounds.

I imagine the anxieties of billionaires are more existential. For the average person, a huge chunk of your time and energy is spent on obtaining enough wealth to support your lifestyle. Life is about providing for you and your loved ones, and how you can provide more.

Without that purpose to pursue, a billionaire might feel anxious about what to do with their life.

They become philanthropists.

I don't know, give me 10B and I'll get back to you in a few years.


I respectfully ask you to not post jokes and memes on HN. This isn’t reddit.

I respectfully disagree with this sentiment. Light-hearted jokes should be welcomed. A joke adds humor to the discussion for some, and that is a valuable contribution. As valuable as technical, political or sociological insight in many cases.

Hacker News experiences nowhere near a volume of spammy meme sharing that would merit rebuking joke comments, enforcing a policy discouraging them, or even downvoting them out of view.

Long time HN guy. I agree. But the post title generated it.

What does that matter? It's still the internet...

/r/gatekeeping from the 900 karma 7 month old account? Why don't you leave it to the mods?

Why is this on the front page?

Why did you click on it?

It seems a simplistic question, so a simplistic answer is: have a Private Banker.

I’d argue that an “anxious billionaire” is an oxymoron. The qualities that push someone to billionaire status are in direct opposition to someone who has anxiety.

What do you mean and what do you have to support your claims?

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