Relative Deprivation: Why Comparing Your Life to Others Less Fortunate Can Make You Feel Better
Did you ever wonder why comparing yourself to celebrities can make you feel so miserable while comparing yourself to those who have miserable lives can make you feel better? Well, it's caused by what sociologists call "relative deprivation." Basically, what's occurring in your mind is you feel you deserve more out of life, but you don't have more, so depression sets in. Yet, when thinking about others less fortunate your attitude perks up. What's the remedy to this way of thinking? Think bigger—more globally, by measuring your circumstances not by those within your social network, but to the lives of others around the globe.
The fascination many have towards celebrities is a curious preoccupation likely caused by one's desire to achieve the fame and fortune celebrities enjoy. Most of us will never achieve the riches or power they possess, which can invoke feelings from dissatisfaction to a sense of failure. Trashing the TV would alleviate much of this “disorder,” but there’s another antidote: to think about those who have far less than we do, or reflect on our good health compared to those who are physically suffering. This is one of the more fascinating conundrums of thoughts we can have, since we are essentially thinking about how miserable other people are to make us feel better. Is this kind of thinking good or just plain wrong?
Frankly, it's tough to split hairs on this question. When a person gets emotional satisfaction in thinking about the misery of others we're inclined to think them mentally inept. But the fact remains, we all get psychological satisfaction when we pit our lives against others less fortunate. Now, I’m not talking about getting a sinister, giddy kind of satisfaction, such as what some experience by watching many “fail” videos that depict people hurting themselves. I’m referring to a sincere reflection on the lives of those less fortunate with an interest to alleviate their suffering. In fact, this kind of reflection is a mental tool we should use more often when we feel down in the dumps. One may wish to quickly dispel this notion, but the next time they count their blessings or, drink a toast to the gods of luck, they'd be wise to reconsider that the reason they think this way—which in retrospect seems so morally repulsive—is because it does their psyche so much good.
The Free thought perspective:
This methodology in thinking runs counter to conventional thinking, but it's perfectly inline with thinking freely. The reason is, thoughts are neutral; neither good or bad. This would include having self-serving thoughts, or deliberately thinking about the suffering of others for the purposes of self-gratification. And it’s within this context that the dynamics of relative deprivation become intriguing. This is due to the manner in which the discontent we feel, because we have not gotten more out of life than what we think we deserve (a seemingly devilish notion), ironically, produces remarkably positive results in our own psyche. But it also increases our capacity of empathy and compassion. Even more revealing is the fact that the more we think globally, (such as comparing our lives with more and more people across the globe), awakens even more empathy within us while simultaneously increasing our sense of wellbeing.