Why do we have such a hard time being happy for others? It is something I have struggled with over the years, and I recognize much of my resentment towards others’ success has been a result of my own insecurities.
Back when we were really floundering, my wife and I were friends with several couples who made much more money than us. They lived in huge houses in the best neighborhood in town, drove nice cars, and took luxurious vacations. We had little in common, except for the church group the moms were members of – MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).
My wife and I often confided to each other that we always felt a little out of place at Christmas parties and other social events hosted by these wealthy couples. My “out of touch” feelings began to fester, and soon I was downright jealous. Why couldn’t I land a great job and earn as much money as them? Why couldn’t we afford a bigger house, and a nicer car?
Fortunately, as part of my financial turnaround, I finally came to terms with what I was feeling. Turns out I wasn’t so much jealous of the “Joneses” as I was unhappy with my own situation. My resentment for others’ success was born from my own lack of success, and I ultimately only had myself to blame.
There was another angle to this I had not considered before this time of reflection. What if those couples were up to their eyeballs in debt? They probably had a huge mortgage payment, two car payments and credit card debt higher than my annual income. After all, outward appearances can be deceiving. Is that really what I was after? Or would I be more content with a modest home, paid-for cars, and the freedom that comes from not carrying any debt. The choice was obvious.
It was at this point that I went through sort of an early mid-life crisis. Up to that point I had been fast-tracking the career ladder, having started literally on the bottom rung and made my way to middle management. Of course, the promotions often meant more headaches, more travel and not much more money. I came to a point in my life where I would gladly give up the late nights, Saturday mornings and two week cross-country trips for more time with my wife and kids.
Sure, we would probably not make as much money as those “rich” friends of ours, but we would be wealthy in other ways. So in March of 2004 we relocated, left the financial industry and found more meaningful work. Now, I make significantly more in a year than I did in those days, thanks to my new career and my side hustles. Aside from a few nice things we enjoy, we still live a modest lifestyle by most standards.
I find it much easier to be happier for others now, if they are truly happy. If I discover they are unhappy with their inflated lifestyles, and are merely working for the trappings of the rich and famous, then I feel a little sorry for them. I hope over time they will break free from the grips of materialism so that they can discover what is really meaningful to them. Maybe it is more time with their family, or more time to volunteer to a cause they believe in, or maybe just more time out on a boat fishing. Whatever it is, I hope they find it so I can truly be happy for them.