In short: Russ worries about his school reunion. Will he come out ahead of his old school mates or are they all driving Porches, flying helicopters and running marathons? We explore the psychology of keeping up with the Joneses
This weekend I'm off to my school reunion. It's now twenty years since I will have met most of my old school mates. Given that I've only bothered to keep in touch with two or three old school friends, why am I going? Well, between you and I, it's either that or weeding the garden.
The problem with school reunions is that there is inevitable anxiety about how your life will compare to others. For some people this this may be about physical appearance; for others educational achievement or maybe financial status. It seems to be one of those things humans can't resist doing. We need to compare ourselves to others to try to judge how we're doing.
This kind of behaviour is seen across many species as it's crucial in judging whether you can beat a rival without putting yourself at risk. The problem is for other animals it's easy: they take a look at the other chap's horns, realise theirs are much smaller, and move on to the next rival. The deer doesn't get exposed endlessly to TV with deer with the biggest horns in the world or facebook with deer posting every five minutes about how their horns are growing.
Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, gave a description of how we compare ourselves in his social comparison theory. Wills and others built on this to explain how we try to use this process to maintain our self esteem. Simply put we look at those less successful than us and focus on how we are different from them. We then look at those more successful and focus on how we are similar to to them.
It's easy to see how this style of thinking causes problems. We can stop caring about others misfortunes because we see such people as 'different' to us. Also, if things go wrong in our lives, we may have to give up our self-created similarities to the 'successful' and assume we have the negative characteristics of the 'unsuccessful' .
What's the answer to this curse of humanity I hear you cry? Well, it's probably not possible to stop doing it, but you might want to look at our previous blog on how to handle bad luck as a starting point.
Anyway I'm off to facebook to check everyone I went to school with has got fat and bald as well. Surely I can't be the only one!