There is a phenomenon called Relative Deprivation that shows that we define our lives as successful or not successful, happy or unhappy, based on the lives of people around us.
I first encountered the concept in Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath (see chapter three).
Though it’s a simple concept, the way it works out can be quite surprising.
One of Gladwell’s applications of this idea has to do with the overall happiness of a country when compared to others. At face value, the countries whose citizens report to be the happiest should be the best places to live. Everyone’s happy. But there’s a dark side to having a high happiness rates: suicide rates in these countries are significantly higher than countries whose citizens report to be less happy or unhappy.
As you think about it, it makes sense: if you compare yourself to those around you and judge yourself, your life, your success, and your happiness based on the people around you, then what happens when they’re all happy and you’re not? In happy countries, there’s less space to be unhappy.
Conversely, countries that are less happy have much lower suicide rates. If you’re less happy and everyone around you is in a similar place, you perceive your experience as normal. It’s ok to be unhappy.
It is important to consider who you include in your circle of comparison.
That circle is not typically a conscious choice, but we can manipulate it if we like. Who are the people that you spend time keeping up with and “following”? How do they make you feel?
Those to whom you compare yourself determine your trajectory…