You might have been satisfied with your $2,000 bonus, but then your colleague sidles up to you and says he got $10,000. Now you’re on the brink of quitting your job or heading to the top floor of an HDB block. You see, how satisfied we feel with how much money we have really depends to a large extent on how much other people have compared to us—relative wealth, not wealth per se, makes us happier. You might be earning twice as much as last year, but if all your friends drive Ferraris you’ll still feel like some underprivileged schmuck.
1. Don’t Assume
Lots of times, when we compare ourselves with others, we’re not really getting an accurate picture of the other person’s situation. No matter how envious you might be of your friend’s five figure salary, you might not know about how they’re shelling out big bucks every month on their car loan, or having to pay the medical bills of their aged parents. People tend to show their best side on social media and to the public, which is why FaceBook can seem like a huge humblebrag fest.
All I can say is that you never really know what a person is facing in private, no matter how well you think you know them. Sure, that guy might earn $20,000 a month, so that means he must be spending his weekends on yachts right? But guess what, he’s been working till 3am every day for the last 5 years. Still want his life?
Not assuming anything about another person’s life therefore means curbing the green-eyed monster when someone else appears to be doing better than you financially. After all, they might look like they have the perfect life, but you don’t know that for sure.
2. Accept that everyone is different
Remember that feeling of being a 10-year-old and wishing you could be just like everyone else? If your classmates all had Ninja Turtles lunchboxes, you had to have one too or else your life was ruined. And I bet your parents always wondered why you couldn’t do as well in mental sums as Mrs Lim’s son.
Now you’re grown up, it’s time to stop wanting to be like everyone else. Whenever you feel like you want something, whether it’s a new handbag, a new car or that coveted corner office, stop and then ask yourself if you really want it or if you’re just unconsciously aping what everyone else is thinking and doing.
We see this play out all the time in the workplace. Your colleagues might complain about how they want to jump ship because the company isn’t paying enough, and this kind of talk often influences all the other employees around them.
If you find this happening to you, realise that what you want out of a job might be very different from what your colleagues want. While they might be willing to work longer hours for better wages, you might honestly think it preferable that you remain in the company for the better work life balance.
Those who manage to truly tailor their lifestyle choices in ways that suit them to a tee are always the ones who manage to shut their ears to the clamour of other people’s opinions. Startup founders, people who’ve built new lives overseas and even people who’ve managed to rise to the top of their fields are likely to have mentalities that are different from the average person on the streets.
3. Don’t distance yourself from people you envy
When we are envious of someone, we tend to retreat into our shells and stop viewing the person with a generous spirit. You might eagerly pick up the tab for a friend you view as being on the same level as you financially-speaking, but once he gets promoted ahead of you your treats rather suddenly come to an end.
A (very unsnooty) friend of mine who was a lawyer earning a five figure monthly salary used to attend motorcycle lessons at a local driving centre. He would chat with the other riding trainees during classes, and found that whenever he mentioned he was a lawyer people started to distance themselves from him. Another lawyer friend of mine used to tell people during reservist that he “did paperwork” when asked about his job, and found that people tended to be friendlier.
Now, the two guys I’ve mentioned above are nice, normal people. But both found that talking about their jobs made people assume they were loaded, and resulted in their not being treated with as much friendliness.
Most of my friends earn more than me, so I know how it feels. But distancing yourself from others because of how you perceive their financial circumstances hurts you most in the end, because you’re the one who’ll be eaten away by envy, not them.
Instead, consciously decide to continue treating someone you envy with generosity, and you’ll soon find that the differences in your financial situations just don’t seem all that jarring anymore.
Are you guilty of comparing yourself with others when it comes to money? Share your experiences in the comments!