‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ asked the old song. Not us, comes the reply – these days we want to be billionaires. We want to live the life of the super-rich in our plush mansions and aboard our private yachts. And of course we want to save the world with our charitable foundations. So how can we make a start?

As of 2011, Forbes Magazine – the rich man’s guide to everything – documented 1,210 US dollar billionaires throughout the world, with a total net worth of US$4.5 trillion. You have the best chance of finding yourself among their ranks if you are American – the US boasts 413, Asia 332, Europe 300 and the rest of the world 165. The average age of a billionaire in the Forbes survey was 66.

A few of these super-rich individuals are born into their money. The King of Saudi Arabia, for instance, has an estimated net worth of US$21 billion and Albert II of Monaco can boast a cool US$1 billion. Queen Elizabeth II of England, perhaps surprisingly, falls below the billion-dollar threshold.

However, the majority of billionaires make their own fortune, and the list of industries in which they have made their megabucks is a surprisingly long and varied one (although you can probably rule out certain professions such as teacher or charity worker).

According to Forbes, the world’s seven richest people in 2013 were Carlos Slim of Mexico, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and Charles and David Koch (all from the USA), and Amancio Ortega of Spain. Slim made his fortune primarily from telecommunications, Gates and Ellison from IT, Buffett from investments, the Koch brothers from oil and chemicals, and Ortega from fashion.

There are few hard and fast rules about how to become a billionaire, but many of the super-rich seem to share certain characteristics. Researching the lives of the rich to understand what motivates them, why they behave in particular ways and what attitudes they have, will give you a better chance of joining them.

In the first place, they really are only human. Despite their wealth, they go through many of the same ups and downs as the rest of us. They worry about their health, about their relationships, about whether their child is going to pass their spelling test on Monday. They might not have to worry about paying the mortgage, but they are at the top of such finely poised financial empires that even they sometimes experience cash-flow issues. In short, they are not so different to you or me. However, studies suggest that billionaires display the ability to problem-solve in creative ways and have highly developed analytical faculties that allow them to strike straight to the heart of a problem. This also helps them to identify commercial opportunities.

They also tend to have started their careers with clear, staged goals in mind, not the least of which is to make lots of money – there are not many accidental billionaires.

As such, the self-made super-rich tend to be risk-takers who are unafraid to fail. A great many billionaires have made and lost their fortunes at least once, but they demonstrate the ability to bounce back stronger, using previous failures as learning experiences.

Many claim billionaires have a strong understanding of human psychology, enabling them to persuade people to share in their vision, make sacrifices on their behalf and, ultimately, help them get rich. Poverty (or at least, relative poverty) in early life is a recurrent trait, presumably providing the motivation not to return to that state. A secure and supportive family background in the early stages of wealth accumulation is another often-mentioned factor.

Finally, in interviews billionaires seem keen to emphasize that money is not everything after all. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they?