Think everyone has it better than you? You aren't alone.
"Financial jealousy is a very real phenomenon and causes a fair amount of distress for the vulnerable," says Ramani Durvasula, a Los Angeles-based licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor at California State University. When it comes to feeling envious of other people's wealth, she observes that we have it tougher than our ancestors, who didn't live in a world of $15,000 purses and $1,000 shoes and weren't exposed to so-called "reality" television shows starring wealthy housewives and the Kardashian family.
But it isn't just TV that can make people feel as if everyone else is living the good life.
"Social media makes this hard, when people post vacation pictures and other fabulous stuff, leaving many people cringing in the name of social comparison and wondering how to keep up with the Joneses," Durvasula says.
Speaking of the Joneses, the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses," is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The expression, which describes the frustrating experience of trying to achieve the same social status as one's neighbors, entered the American conversation when cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand debuted the comic strip "Keeping Up with the Joneses." (According to Toonopedia.com, the preeminent cartoon encyclopedic website, the strip was first printed in 1913.) The comic centered on the misadventures of Aloysius P. McGinnis and his family, who were perpetually trying to stay caught up with their always-unseen neighbors, the Joneses.
Of course, it's now virtually impossible to keep up with the Joneses. "Used to be, we would try to just keep up with our neighbors. Now the neighborhood is as big as the whole world," Durvasula says.
So if you feel beleaguered by reality TV stars, your wealthy cousins on Facebook or your neighbors' new car, backyard trampoline and swimming pool for the kids, don't beat yourself up. Financial envy is a normal state of being. In any case, here are some thoughts that may help you keep your ego in perspective.
What you think you see may not be the reality. Let us not mince words and be realistic. It is true that some people have more money than you, and compared to you, they may have a charmed life.
But not everyone who is living the good life is actually in a better place than you. "People can seem to be doing well, but appearances can be deceiving," says Sheila May, a forensic accountant and licensed CPA based in Scituate, Mass. "Debt, risky decisions and acquiring material possessions that take time and money or lose value are not good long-term moves."
May says she knows of plenty of people who lived lavishly only to discover in retirement that their money was running out. If you're spending within your means, she says, you should be proud of yourself rather than tear yourself down.
Xavier Epps, who runs a Woodbridge, Va.-based financial service company that specializes in helping individuals and small businesses, has a similar take. "While it's tempting to believe everything you see others post via social media, automatically discount 30 percent of what you see," Epps advises. He adds that people tend to post pictures of the new car, but they rarely complain later about not being able to afford it. We may not see it, but "there's always two sides to a situation," he says.
Financial planners are also warning investors not to let social media sites get them down. "I tell my clients to remember that just because they see an awesome vacation picture on Facebook, doesn't mean they're seeing the credit card debt that came with the trip," says Ann Arceo, president of Savvy Duo Financial Planning in Los Angeles, who specializes in helping newlyweds and young couples.
She adds: "Facebook is about as real as the reality TV shows many of us are addicted to watching."
Compare yourself to people poorer than you. "The mistake that most people make is comparing themselves to someone who is very wealthy. There is always someone who has more than you. If you're feeling envious of someone else's financial position, it usually just means you need to change your perspective," says Steven Hirsch, a CPA in Mineola, N.Y.