How To Find Peace When Your Friends Have More Money, Nicer Toys, Better Sex And Greener Lawns
A guide to overcoming comparison envy
A few years ago I hired a lawn care service to give my yard a lush green look. I didn’t want to do this, but I felt obligated. All my neighbors had beautiful green lawns. I didn’t want our house to be that house.
When the salesman came to my house, he gave me a survey to fill out. It caught me by surprise. The first question on the survey indicated these people were first and foremost consumer psychology experts.
What kind of lawn do you want?
1. Good enough to avoid unwanted attention.
2. On par with my neighbors.
3. The most beautiful lawn on the block.
Whoever designed that question and answers, embraced a quirk of human nature that most of us like to ignore.
Comparison envy — Measuring status, success and happiness based on how we compare ourselves to our peers.
Choose your friends carefully
Nobody likes to feel upstaged or bested by a peer. It’s not about money and material possessions. It’s about status, and where you peg yourself against others in your peer group. I chose the phrase peer group for a reason. We don’t compare ourselves to anyone and everyone.
In every company I’ve ever worked at, the HR manual urged us not to share our salary with other employees. The reason is obvious. If you find out your colleague makes more money than you, it could cause resentment.
Most of us don’t care if the CEO makes twenty times more than us. We expect that. He or she is in a different peer group. But it stings like an army of angry scorpions if the guy in the next cubicle makes one percent more than us.
In sports, contacts are public knowledge.
The rest of us look on in bewilderment when one star threatens to walk out unless he gets another two million per year. But he’s already making twenty million. Isn’t he unreasonable and greedy? To us, yes. To him, he ’s not thinking greed. He’s thinking that his peer is making twenty-one million and in his mind, he’s better than his peer.
You know that couple who fell into money?
Comparisons damage and sometimes destroy friendships. It’s become a trope in movies and television. There’s a clique of men or women, all similar in terms of financial wherewithal. One couple from this group hits it big. They show up to a party and park their new Porsche amongst a street filled with Honda’s, Toyota’s and maybe a stray Acura.
The couple knows their newfound wealth might make others uncomfortable, so they try not to flaunt it, but their friends notice. The couple may even crack a few jokes about trying to save money or complaining they spend too much. Their friends know it’s bullshit and it only deepens their silent resentment.
The tension erupts in some dramatic sequence. Everyone apologizes, but things deteriorate for the wealthy couple. They find themselves shut out of social situations, excommunicated from the group without any drama or fanfare.
Nobody likes to admit they draw some perception of success or failure by comparisons to others.
Why do we torture ourselves?
It’s a lazy way to measure your success. Look around at others in your peer group. Are you doing better, worse or about the same? It’s human. I have a roof over my head, food on the table and a few bucks in the bank. Shouldn’t I be happy with what I have? That’s the logical you talking, not the emotional you. Your emotional side tends to elbow out your logical side — at least that’s how my mind works.
Sanitized lives distort our perception
I graduated from high school in 1989. Back then, my group of friends would always brag to each other about our sex lives. But there was a problem. We’d hang out with each other every Friday and Saturday night — just five guys. We knew everyone’s boastful claims were bullshit. It’s harder to determine truthfulness today.
We now compare ourselves to filtered images of what others show us. Your best friend’s Facebook profile shows her beautiful new kitchen renovation, perfect family and bounty of endless friends. That’s the curated image she shows the world, and it results in comparison envy. Of course, you don’t see her problems: marital issues, job stress, toxic mold remediation in her attic or the myriad of other issues people endure.
“I can never compete with that.”
That was the self-talk I struggled with when I use to browse Facebook obsessively.
Competing with a curated version of someone’s life is hard, if not impossible.
How does comparison envy play out in real life?
It’s not like a television drama. The envy rarely erupts into verbal combat. It’s more like an unspoken tension. Everyone feels the unease, but nobody speaks it.
Can you overcome comparison envy?
Forget logic. We know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but we do it anyway. I’m convinced you cannot avoid it. I’m forty-seven. I’ve been trying forever. You can’t prevent it, but you can mitigate the effects.
I learned a lesson in sales fifteen years ago from a mentor. It wasn’t a cheesy sales closing or manipulation trick; it was more of a life tactic.
“People feel better about themselves when compared to someone worse off.”
From that one-liner, we derived several rules:
1. Never let your prospect feel inferior to you.
2. Give a sincere compliment about something your prospect does well; it enhances his perceived status.
3. Show your prospect how your product or service will make him superior to his competitor.
Applying this rule to life
What do you do if you find yourself feeling envious of that friend or neighbor doing a little bit better than you?
Spend time with someone worse off than you. If that feels too fake or hollow, then help someone worse off than you.
Latch onto an advantage you possess. Nobody is perfect at everything. Money, title and material goods aren’t the only measurements of success and status. This technique is more of a self-talk play to ease the disquietude in your mind.
If all else fails, remind yourself that you’re feeling comparison envy. It’s an illogical emotion that will pass. Get curious about it. Ask yourself questions. This exercise can shift your state from emotional to logical mode.
What do you do when a friend or neighbor feels uneasy about having less than you?
A select few relishes this situation. Most of us feel uncomfortable, even though we haven’t done anything wrong.
You cannot control someone else’s feelings. The fake woe-is-me attitude doesn’t work either.
“Making millions of dollars comes with its own set of problems. I so wish I was in your position.”
That kind of attitude is insulting.
Back in my twenties, I had a friend who did quite well with the ladies. I struggled to find dates (pre-internet era). He’d always say something like this.
“Juggling all these women ain’t easy. You have the right idea, staying out of the fray and doing your own thing.”
He wasn’t trying to be mean, but that kind of talk irritated me for a multitude of reasons. I never told him. Instead, I slowly dissolved our friendship.
When you’re in the superior situation
Remember the sales lesson I wrote about earlier. Make the other person feel superior in another way. Ask him to help you with something which he excels.
If one person has always held the edge in money or another important measure, it doesn’t bother us. The issue usually arises when two people saw themselves as equals and then one shot ahead. Sometimes relationships don’t survive extreme changes in social and financial status. It’s an unfortunate fact of life.