Comparative Happiness

Comparison is human nature. As a society, we constantly compare not only physical appearances but also our careers, families, and of course wealth. You hear people say things like, “I mean he’s rich, but he’s not that rich,” because people keep a mental score. Studies even show that people say they are happier making less, as long as it is equal to or more than their neighbor. That’s comparative happiness.

For example, if Joe makes $50,000 per year while his neighbor only makes $40,000, Joe says he’s happier than if he made $100,000 per year while his neighbor made $150,000. In absolute terms, they are both much better off in the second scenario. But because of comparative happiness, Joe feels happier making less money since it’s more than his neighbor—kind of messed up.

But this type of happiness isn’t true happiness. It’s like a combination of the high from impulse shopping and schadenfreude. I know I had good parents, but didn’t everyone learn at a young age to just do your best and not worry about everybody else? I thought that was Personal Happiness 101.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We have all had run-ins with someone from our past and been momentarily taken aback by their apparent success. Maybe you notice their watch or see their car, and at least for a moment, jealousy flares up inside of you. That’s normal and understandable, but that’s also where it should stop.

Don’t dwell on it or compare your own success to theirs. Your plan and your goals are all that should matter to you. Moreover, you never know what’s truly going on with people. They may look wildly successful on the surface, but underneath, it’s all paid for on credit.

Also, they may not have the family love and support that you do. You never know what’s going on with people at home. Or—and this is crazy—but maybe they are wildly successful AND have a great personal life, AND—that’s great for them. Don’t begrudge someone else’s success. Focus on your own.

There will always be someone who makes more money. Even if you catch up to Jim from high school, you forgot about Dave who went to Stanford and has a single digit employee ID at Fitbit. He cashed in his options and is set for retirement at 30.

The point is that you will inevitably compare yourself to other people. But you should rein it in quickly and refocus on yourself.


Josh Norris is an Investment Advisory Representative of LeFleur Financial. Josh can be reached at