Relative deprivation is something I first became aware of when I was a year or two out of college. As I compared myself to my circle of friends, I thought I was doing pretty well. Then, I visited a friend who was living in New York and worked in the finance industry.
I quickly realized that if I were to compare myself to him, I’d be losing. My job was not nearly as prestigious, my clothes not nearly as nice, my home not nearly as impressive, and my life not nearly as exciting as his. It was a fun visit to New York with friends, but I remember returning home and feeling inadequate.
Shortly after this trip, I was introduced to the concept of relative deprivation. Social scientists define this concept as “the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that they have less of what they believe themselves to be entitled than those around them.”
It’s a terrible experience to feel less than someone else, but the reality is that we do this to ourselves. We experience relative deprivation when we compare ourselves to each other.
It happens when we see our neighbor pull up in a brand new car and wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford a nicer vehicle.
It happens in the business world when we go to someone’s new office space and wonder why they have the clients and success we don’t have.
It happens when the pastor sees the church down the road that’s double the size of his tiny church building.
It happens when your coworker receives the promotion you think you deserve.
It happens when your friend’s child gets into their dream college, and your child is struggling to get into any college.
When we start comparing ourselves to one another, we start to feel less than, but here’s the truth: We were not created to have an equal amount of things.
This is a tough reality for some people to accept, but it’s a reality nonetheless. We must fight the urge to compare and choose to focus on what we do have.
The inverse of this struggle is equally as dangerous. When we compare ourselves with others who have less than we do, we have a false feeling of superiority.
Getting caught in the comparison game is a terrible trap that results in a self-image based on the people you encounter each day.
Getting caught in the comparison game is a terrible trap that results in a self-image based on the people you encounter each day. @KevinPaulScott
So, here’s my charge to you (and to myself): Stop worrying about what everyone else has and be thankful for what you have. Easier said than done, but far more fulfilling when you put this principle into practice.