Happiness is Relative
There have been a number of studies in recent years showing that, while people in many countries are getting richer, they are not necessarily getting happier. The research seems to show that, for most people, apparently, happiness lies not in the absolute amount of “rewards” you have, but in whether or not you have more or less than others.
If you have more than those you compare yourself to, then you will be a happy person. If you have less, you will be unhappy.
This matches what I tend to see. CEOs with obscene paypackets are unhappy until they have matched what is considered “normal” among other CEOs. Lawyers from modest beginnings, making more than a million dollars a year or more, can get depressed and resentful because they are not earning what investment bankers earn.
The issue is not just about money, but many forms of the world’s rewards and recognitions. Academics and other authors can be (and are) jealous the (non-monetary) respect and recognition that is accorded to their (perceived) competitors’ work. Socially, in their personal lives, people are always playing the game of “keeping up with the Jones':” being content with what they’ve got, until their neighbor has more.
All of this points out something rather interesting for managing oneself and others. If happiness comes from “how well you are doing compared to others,” then it matters a lot WHICH others you compare yourself to. And that can be very arbitrary.
On any given day, we can be amazed at the good fortune we have been showered with, compared to specific others who, perhaps, did not have our advantages. There will usually be solid reasons to celebrate our relative successes, triumphs, accomplishments, recognition.
On the other hand, for most people and most companies, there will ALWAYS be someone who, in some way, has done “better,” deservedly or undeservedly, and the focus can become a dispirited one of regret and disappointment , that we are not doing as well as THEM.
Sometimes, you don’t care what others have got. Or to be more precise, certain people just aren’t your reference group: you don’t compare yourself to them. Others you care about a lot.
The questions that all this raises in my mind are these:
(a) How are the reference groups you compare yourself with determined?
(b) As individuals (self-management) or as companies (managing others) can we learn to control or manage who we choose as our reference group?
(c) How do you keep comparisons to a reference group “healthy” and avoid obsessive, unproductive comparisons?