Froma Harrop: They're very rich but also very lonely

From the commentary: Everyone in Xanadu was miserable. We eventually learn that Kane's lifetime of unhappiness stemmed from a loss of affection in far more humble surroundings. ... It's surprising how lonely the rich can be.

Beautiful luxury kitchen and dining room with view windows.
Beautiful luxury kitchen and dining room with view windows.
JOHN WOLLWERTH/Wollwerth Imagery - stock.adobe.

Many very rich people are very unhappy. Though that's not new news, others have a hard time believing it. Assuming reasonably good health, who wouldn't find contentment living in a gilded mansion and flying around in private jets? Imagine being able to just plunk down a platinum card anytime some glittering luxury winks your way. Envision being cushioned from the indignities of waiting on lines.

Froma Harrop Commentary
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But imagine also how this exclusivity can separate one from interaction with other human beings. And how that can create a kind of loneliness.

The Wall Street Journal's real estate section slobbers over mansions that are so cavernous, owners may rarely come across a spouse or child wandering in another wing. And face it, many of their dogs know the professional walker better than them. (Dogs are social creatures. Gold-plated faucets do nothing for them. Fire hydrants that have been visited by fellow canines are another matter.)

We read of the $23.5 million sale of the "priciest property to ever sell in Paradise Valley." The Arizona hacienda has two barrooms, two mahogany libraries and two swimming pools. This offers residents much opportunity to drink alone, read alone and swim alone.

The building was completed in 2009, but the original buyer sold it a mere three years later. The new purchaser stayed for only about 10 years. This is not exactly the old family homestead about which generations could share memories.


Elsewhere, an entrepreneur who bought a 14,000-square-foot hulk outside Reno, Nevada, is selling it after seven years. It features five bedroom "suites." Two of them, intended for grandchildren, are big enough to fit four beds. It also sports a theater room, a 600-bottle wine room and a walk-in closet with not one, but two dressing areas.
The grandchildren, however, weren't visiting much. The sellers say they are downsizing and moving closer to the kids.

As the late Mark Hampton, an interior designer to the old guard, advised, "Coziness and intimacy are the obvious qualities that are actually easier to achieve in a small room than a large one." Citing the children's book "The Wind in the Willows," Hampton wrote that Mr. Badger's house was probably a lot more inviting than Toad Hall. He went on: "One or two rooms that permit a degree of pack-rat behavior are a blessed addition to any household."

Hampton notes that Louis XIV had the huge palace of Versailles to rattle around in but hunkered down in tiny private apartments. They were built with low ceilings "right down on top of your head."

The hit series "Succession" centered on an immensely rich family whose members tormented each other as they helicoptered from one extravagant estate to another. No amount of not-spared expense made anyone happy.

That recalled "The Gilded Age," a series about the ruthlessly competitive super rich of an industrializing America. Gorgeous ballrooms and women's gowns failed to soften the scourge of insecurity that haunted these desperate climbers of high society's greasy pole.

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Recall the beginning and end of the 1941 classic movie "Citizen Kane." The self-made newspaper mogul had just died, and his estate handlers were packing up the contents of Xanadu — "a collection of everything so big it can never be cataloged or appraised," a voice tells us, "enough for 10 museums; the loot of the world. Xanadu's livestock: the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, the beast of the field and jungle. Two of each; the biggest private zoo since Noah ... "

Everyone in Xanadu was miserable. We eventually learn that Kane's lifetime of unhappiness stemmed from a loss of affection in far more humble surroundings.
It's surprising how lonely the rich can be.

Froma Harrop is an American writer and author. She can be reached at or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.


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