Our happiness isn’t always in our hands. Sometimes it depends on the success (or lack thereof) of those around us.
It might seem fairly obvious if I were to say that we compare ourselves to other people. I think we all know that on some level. But have you ever wondered why? And to what effect? Well, many a psychologist has – how might comparing ourselves to others affect how we live our lives?
The archetypal work of Buunk and Ybema is a good enough starting point to answer this question. They did a bunch of research on social comparisons in 1997 and found that we use these comparisons as a benchmark to judge how satisfied we should be. If those around us are more successful than us, we tend to feel stressed and ambitious. Less successful? We tend to feel comfortable and lack motivation. Why? Well, what better way for our lazy, lazy brains to decide how hard we need to work.
It’s a very simple thing, but pretty influential. Let’s say you’re a Uni student and you’re mates are on the honour roll. You get a couple of Ds and you might find you feel pretty lacklustre. Maybe you make some new friends, who are more into the party side and don’t mind scraping through with passing grades. Suddenly, the fact that you’re in the top 25% feels good again – something you forgot with your brainier buddies.
Another example. You’re a salesperson, selling 10 units a month. You sit right next to Hugh who sells 20 units a month. That’s double! You’re not going to feel very satisfied with your persuasive prowess (although we can help with that). But then you move desks, sitting in between Peter and Sam who both only sell 4 or 5 units a month. You’ll feel like a king.
You get the point I hope.
It’s just as apparent in romantic relationships. Happy couples tend to see themselves as superior to the relationships around them and pride; joy and happiness ensues. Unhappy couples have a greater tendency to feel their relationships are worse than average and will feel anger, envy and frustration (you might also be interested to know that ‘magic number’ that’ll help you repair that relationship).
So, be aware of who you surround yourself with. People who place value on different things to you might perform less in areas you care about, encouraging you to underachieve. But, surround yourself with too many overachievers and you might just find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety. As with so many things, balance is the key.
Learn why friends are oh, so important here. Or learn how to impress potential new ones here. Turning scholarship into wisdom without the usual noise and clutter, we dig up the dirt on psychological theories you can use. Become an armchair psychologist at The Dirt Psychology.