How to Be Happy with What You Have According To Psychology

be happy

Do you find it difficult to be happy and optimistic in your daily life? You are constantly comparing yourself to others and become dissatisfied when others surpass you. Here is everything you need to know about happiness and resentment.

The Evolutionary Psychology Of Social Positioning And Envy.

So picture this: You go into the mailroom at work and there’s an envelope from the president of your company. Of course, you rush to your desk to open this one at breakneck speed. Did you do something wrong? Did you do something especially right? Are you being asked to take on an important role within your organization?

You make it to your desk and open that envelope up in record time. It is a personalized letter from the president to you congratulating you on your recent accomplishments and thanking you for your dedication to the organization. It ends by indicating that you will receive, starting immediately, an on-base salary increase of $10,000 a year. Wow! You were NOT expecting this! You can hardly contain your joy at this wonderful news!

You take a photo of the letter and text it to your spouse, who also works for the same organization. She texts you back with a photo of a letter that she just received. Also today. Also from the president of the organization. She is being given an on-base salary increase of $12,000 a year for her accomplishments. In the next hour, you find out about similar letters received by several of your colleagues. And get this: In each case, the raise is larger than your own!

An hour ago, you were bursting with joy at the news of your raise and the recognition of your great work. Now, 60 brief minutes later, you are sulking and are planning to go home early so as to avoid seeing everyone else whom you work with. Your joy has turned to shame and embarrassment pretty quickly. You never want to see any of them again!

On your drive home, you call the only person in the world who might make you feel at least somewhat better in this moment: your mom. Mom, of course, congratulates you and tells you that she sees this as GREAT news! And that you should focus on your own positive outcome. Hey, you just got a $10,000 raise! That money will make your entire life so much easier for the rest of your days. Good for you!

After you hang up with Mom, you find your emotional state immediately shifting back to all-out pity-party status. You find yourself not even being able to be happy for your wife’s raise. And the money from her raise will directly benefit you and your children immensely moving forward.

What the heck is going on?

How to Be Happy with What You Have According To Psychology
How to Be Happy with What You Have According To Psychology

Related: What Determines Jealous Protective Behavior In Men

A Thought Experiment

To best understand why so many of us would feel more negative than positive emotions in the aforementioned example, here is a thought experiment. Which of the following would you prefer to obtain?

A. You get a raise of $9,000 and everyone else gets either no raise, or a raise of $5,000

or

B. You get a raise of $10,000 but everyone else gets an even-bigger raise

If you’re human like the rest of us, there is a good chance that, in fact, you’d choose option A.

Of course, in an absolute sense, this is ridiculous. The more money the better, right? And it’s clear that $10,000 is more than $9,000. So in terms of your own lot, you should pick option B. But let’s face it, one’s salary is largely an index of one’s status within an organization. And with so many economic indicators in our world, salary is often less about its surface-level function (how much money you get) than it is about one’s position and value within a community (see Frank, 2005).

Related: Social Comparison – Two-sided Sword That We Should Be Careful To

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Glenn Geher

Glenn Geher, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz where he has been awarded SUNY Chancellor Awards for Excellence for both Teaching and Research. In addition to teaching various courses and directing the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab, Glenn serves as founding director of the campus’s Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program. He is also credited as the founder of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS). Glenn has published several books including Evolutionary Psychology 101, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love, Straightforward Statistics, and Own Your Psychology Major! In Darwin’s Subterranean World: Evolution, Mind, and Mating Intelligence, Glenn addresses various topics related to the human condition.View Author posts