There was an experiment done at Harvard University where they offered the graduating students a choice of two salaries. They could choose to earn $75,000 per year and all their classmates would earn $80,000 a year or they could earn $70,000 a year and all their classmates would earn $65,000 per year. Over 70 % of the students went for the lower paying salary for themselves as they would be earning more than their colleagues*.
The human society is built on competition. To figure out how happy we should be we compare ourselves with someone else. You got a big bonus at work – but what did everyone else get? You got a B on an exam – just peek at your friends results to figure out if you should be happy or upset with this.
Real estate agents have a little trick they use while selling houses. They never show their best house first to the buyer. They show a bad house first and then the nicer home second. If they show their best house first, then the buyer doesn’t know if the house is any good as they need something to compare with. As they don’t have a benchmark they can’t decide. Set the benchmark low, and they have a higher chance of a sale.
You could do the same with your life. Just get friends that earn less than you, weigh more than you or are “dumber” than you. This means your benchmarks are low and your chances of relative happiness higher.
Do you need someone else to decide to be content – or can you be content by yourself? If you need relativity – than there will always be a bigger house, faster car, better job title or bigger bonus you could get. There will always be someone that can run faster or further than you.
The “rat race” is built on people that need relativity to be happy. The “rat race” promises you that you work a little harder and you can get that promotion which will let you “beat” the others. Work that little bit harder now, delay gratification and then you will be happy. They forgot to mention – when you get to the next level, than you will have to start all over again in order to get to the level after that.
Or you could simply appreciate where you are – wherever you are – and decide if you want to go to the next level and if so, at what pace.
Do you need to be relatively happy or just happy?
*note – I can’t recall where I got this study from but the figures are roughly accurate – if you know the reference please let me know!