We all envy rich people for their ability to get what they want. However, the ease of securing material possessions is matched by a difficulty in obtaining authentic affection, because rich people like Cristiano Ronaldo can never really tell who has an honest affinity for them. That’s why the rich love international awards and rankings: they are one of the few ways they can feel genuinely good about themselves.
The conclusion of the 2023 Golden Globes reminds us that Oscar season is just around the corner. That means bracing yourself for cringeworthy, vomit-inducing speeches by Hollywood’s elite upon accepting their profession’s biggest honor. While many of the tears shed are likely to be performative, behind them lies a true sense of satisfaction that money cannot buy.
The problem that rich people all over the world face is that their power creates an incentive for people to pretend to like them, as those hangers on seek access to resources and influence. While some people enjoy having a gaggle of insincere sycophants incessantly complimenting them, all humans have a basic need to feel genuinely loved.
Moreover, our brains are wired to be attuned to the possibility of being manipulated by social climbers. Therefore, even the Justin Biebers and Kim Kardashians of this world will not be truly happy until they have spouses and friends who they are convinced have affection for them.
A few years ago, I remember reading an interview with Harry Potter and Twilight star Robert Pattison, wherein he remarked that he is lonely and is unable to make friends. Pattison was exhausted from dealing with people who feign enjoyment of his company once they become aware of his fame and fortune. He found the insincerity and obsequiousness intolerable.
Therefore, international awards and rankings mean so much to the rich. They have mansions, private planes, supercars, and servants in abundance, but they are starved of sincere appreciation. When an international body that they can’t buy – like the United Nations or FIFA – honors them for their achievements, it means so much to them precisely because they are certain that they earned that recognition.
In contrast, the teams of advisors, assistants, and underlings who follow them around all day, telling them how wonderful their ideas are and shielding them from external criticism, can sometimes grow tiresome. Not tiresome enough to disband; but the rich overlord knows deep down that these groupies are only hanging around for the cash, and so they can never completely satisfy their principal’s ego.
This is especially true for the rich people who inherit wealth, or who otherwise acquire it without exerting effort or demonstrating high aptitude. They are even more reliant on external validation to feel good about themselves – self-made plutocrats like Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos can extract some measure of self-love by reflecting upon how hard they toiled, and how far they have come.
In contrast, the trust fund kids who are born millionaires, attend an Ivy League university due to dad’s donation, and have a senior management position in the old man’s businesses waiting for them upon graduation and feel a much deeper sense of insecurity alongside it. The only way to reverse it is appearing on the front cover of Forbes or Time Magazine.
To be sure, this downside of wealth is never enough for the rich person to surrender their billions and live like a commoner – Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine is a cartoon character in a work of fiction for a reason.
However, it is important for the rest of us to be aware of this dynamic, as it helps us understand why the rich and powerful allocate an unreasonably large volume of resources to efforts at securing recognition from international bodies.
Elon Musk knows that he can’t buy the respect of US Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez since she seems to have a visceral dislike for him and what he represents. However, if he makes Twitter good enough to earn a compliment from AOC, he is likely to go giddy with excitement. As he strives, don’t be surprised to see him wasting time on responding to her Tweets – time that Tesla shareholders would rather he spent on managing their assets.