How to cope when your friends earn more money


When my son bought his second-hand dual-cab 4WD, it was love at first sight.

He set about tinkering with electronics and all manner of things to spruce up his perfect car, aptly brandishing a large "Built not Bought" sticker on the front - a not too subtle poke at some of his friends who had spent more on a car, but whom the tribe had deemed less authentic and cool.

That car was more than simply a mode of transport; it was a core part of his identity.

how to overcome jealousy when your friends earn more money

Great adventures were had camping on beaches, tearing up cliff-like mud tracks and day-tripping with his mates wherever and whenever they wanted.

It was love. It was freedom. It was happiness.

However, as the years passed, his university degree started to soak up more and more time, and the cost of rent, fuel and food started to skyrocket.

He found himself with less money at the end of each week and less time to earn more. He moved into a small apartment to be closer to his university on the Sunshine Coast, and started to learn what it was to live on a strict budget.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Meanwhile, other friends who had chosen a professional trade rather than study had more disposable cash to spend on shiny new vehicles. The adored 4WD started to look a little more "Bashed not Beloved" - the shine was wearing thin.

Offroad adventures with his friends all but ceased because the cost of fuel and repairs was simply too high.

The hobby that was giving him so much energy, happiness and identity was becoming too expensive to maintain - a loss that started to hurt.

My son started to become disquieted with what he had, discontented with his situation and wondered whether university was indeed the right choice after all.

Then we reminded him of a simple saying that is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus from around 300BC: "Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for."

He has a great 4WD, he has great friends, and he is doing well in a university course that will set him up for a great life. And let's not forget he is living near the beach in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. It might not be perfect, but there is a lot to be grateful for.

Keep an eye on the big picture

So many people are feeling the pain of loss at the moment, just like my son, as they sacrifice things they love to balance the budget.

Being able to manage your emotions and reframe your experience to focus on what you do have rather than what you have lost, is a critical mental skill when battling financial grief. Without this skill you will slide into a type of depression, mourning the loss of things that in the big picture are relatively meaningless.

Paradoxically, when people are under financial pressure, they will sometimes look to spend even more money on things or experiences to make themselves feel better. If the loss is dramatic enough, people will often take big risks and gamble what money they do have away in search of a windfall to soothe the hurt. They devalue what they have, in the search for what they do not.

The more you allow the pain of loss to impact you, the more likely you are to make a bad decision to mitigate the heartache. This is the true cost of discontentment. It is poison envy.

Plan for a better future, but never lose sight of the good things you have. Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Two thousand years on it seems we are still struggling to learn this basic lesson of happiness.

Manage your emotions: think positive

Every morning, start the day by listing three things you are grateful for. Try to avoid common things like "my kids" or "I live in a great country". Be specific and attentive to things that are often overlooked.

This could include gratitude for people who've made a positive difference in your life, a new opportunity that you have today or something simple in your immediate line of sight.

At the end of any formal meeting or in-depth conversation, make a point of thanking the other person for a specific new insight or knowledge they have just given you. This will help you see people for who they are, rather than what they own or do, and will also make the other person feel valued.

Learn to articulate out loud what you love about the things you have.

Externalising thoughts helps your brain "hear" it better, reinforcing the more positive (and realistic) perspective.

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Phil Slade is a behavioural economist and psychologist and the author of Going Ape S#!t! and founder of Decida. He works across digital innovation, strategy and cognitive bias. Phil holds a Bachelor of Psychology from The University of Queensland and a Master of Organisational Psychology from Griffith University.