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Are You Able to be Happy for Friends and Family That are Wildly Successful?

by Darwin on July 15, 2012

Our family just returned from a trip to visit some friends in South Carolina.  We were visiting my wife’s old college friend (who actually introduced us and is thus responsible for our current life and family!) and while down there, she had invited another set of mutual college friends up from Florida so we could all hang together for a few days.  We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, but we all have young kids now and thought it would be neat to get together and spend a few days at their “Lake House”.  It turns out the Lake House is a gorgeous 40 acre plot on a pristine lake that looks out to nothing but preserved lands.  Beautiful home, ponds, beach with palm trees, a Polaris rover to ride around in, you name it.  And that’s just the Lake House, not their main house closer to Charleston.  She hit it big.  She’s an author and somewhat of a celeb in many circles so she’ll remain nameless, but the bottom line is that they’re doing REALLY well, have a lot of stuff and seem very happy.

But Wait, There’s More!

Enter my other buddy that came up from Florida.  He has also been very successful.  He’s presently building a 6 Bedroom 7 Bath mansion down in Florida in a gated community that will have a beautiful swimming pool in the courtyard and all kinds of other nice amenities.  They happen to be doing quite well and seem very happy as well.  I wouldn’t even venture a guess at the income of either couple, but directionally, it’s no stretch to say that they make considerably more than we do.

Neither of them were in any way bragging about their success or playing it up, but it just comes up in normal conversation.  You can’t help but notice how someone’s place is when you’re there and my buddy works in finance and he knows about my interest in finance as well, so naturally, we were talking finances quite a bit, like what he’s up to, his hedge fund, his investments, his clients, etc.

The Epiphany

I honestly never really thought about the asymmetry in wealth amongst the families the entire visit.  It was only on the ride home that my wife and I were just talking about stuff and she said, “Wow, they both seem to be doing really well.  Do you feel like I’ve held you back or badly that we’re not in the same boat?”  It was an honest and legitimate question.  After all, over the years, we’ve made decisions not to move around the country chasing the next job offer or even to take an international assignment from my current employer just because my career hasn’t been our only priority.  We have family in the area, like having some roots and stability, and I have my hands full at night with kid activities and 3 other jobs: Blogging, Outsourcing Business and Real Estate.  My wife is home with the kids now and moving to the middle of nowhere chasing another $20K in salary every 2 years would certainly increase our income over the years, but probably wouldn’t have left her very happy, nor the kids.  While I can legitimately put in a typical 50 hour week at work and still end up at the top of the continuum each year from an appraisal standpoint, I have to realistically admit that I have not been a cut-throat careerist and have not advanced as far as I could have given my initial trajectory in my twenties.

My answer? After mulling it over for a second, I replied that I couldn’t be happier for them.  Seriously.  They both worked really hard to get where they are.  They took risks.  They did things that I didn’t and they deserve their success.  I’m really happy for them and I’m happy that they are also happily married and have great families.  I had to think for a moment about who I WAS jealous of.  I really couldn’t come up with anyone.  I kind of remember being a kid and maybe being a bit jealous of a jock who got all the girls so effortlessly or a kid who was just so much damn better at every sport than me without even trying.  But that’s probably a common feeling for many kids – part of immature adolescence.  But as an adult?  I don’t bear any jealousy toward anyone?  Even though so many people have so much more money, success, status, or have had stuff handed to them, I think my ability to be happy for others is just feeling good about what I’ve done with my life, what I have earned and what the future holds.  I won’t brag and say what I have accomplished or what I do have, but I’ll just say that it’s enough for me to be perfectly content.

Jealousy Will Ruin Your Life

I’ve never talked about this on my blog but my entire family is estranged from my brother.  It’s a real shame because he has 4 boys the same age as my kids and he and I were pretty close growing up.  He used to have a dark streak and would snap and become violent over seemingly small things now and then, but he never turned on me (just many of his friends and my parents).  Well, when he came to the realization college wasn’t for him, he started a tree removal business.  It was tough because the income was sporadic, he wasn’t an experienced business man and it was a very capital intensive business with a lot of things breaking.  I worked for him one summer and it was VERY physical, hard and dangerous work – clearing lots and taking down large trees.  He used to joke that my summer job experience should reinforce why I’m in college and shouldn’t do manual labor for a living.  Well, fast-forward a couple years, I got out of college, got a decent job and bought a house first thing.  During the same period, he married a woman who had a very jealous streak and played to his weaknesses.  She always had it out for me and used to insinuate that I was the favorite of my parents (which was untrue as my father used to go WAY out of his way to be very equal and fair with both sons on everything from wedding gift to Christmas gifts.).  She hated my wife (then fiance), apparently because she was thinner, had a larger engagement ring and other nonsensical reasons.  And when I bought the house, that was the final straw.  They were living in an apartment with very loud tenants above them and hated their living situation, but they didn’t have the financial means to get out.  She was so jealous about the house that when we hosted a holiday or tried to get the whole family out for a get-together, they wouldn’t come.  At one point, even my brother didn’t side with her and he came out without her.

But as time wore on, he had to choose – his wife or his family.  The jealousy became more and more ridiculous and they reached a cross-roads.  They had to part ways with everyone over the anger, the jealousy.  And they did.  I’ve only seen him once over the past several years, and it was to tell him in person that my father died.  I found his reaction to be odd, rather dismissive, only to find out later that he already found out from a local cop friend.  So, I’m not sure what his motivation was to have me call him, drive two hours out and watch me break the horrific news to him that he already knew, and apparently didn’t care much about.  His only inquiry following that was to the family lawyer to find out if he was getting any money.  He wasn’t, it all went to my mother.  But it demonstrated just how deep the anger and jealousy went – he wasn’t even there for my mom following the death of her husband and the man who raised him and helped him so much with his business in the early years.  I hope they’re happy, but I suspect they are not.  Because there are millions of other people in the world to be jealous of.  But such is life.

I’m thankful for what I have, I’m thankful that my friends and other family members are doing well, and I’m very optimistic about the future.

Do You Find Yourself Being Jealous of Others?

Are Other Jealous of You?

Does it All Revolve Around Money?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance @ Money Life and More July 15, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Jealousy is hard. I sometimes wish I had things others do but I don’t think I’m jealous of them. I understand that they worked hard for it and made a lot of sacrifices I don’t want to make. It all works out in the long run. So sorry to hear about your brother and hopefully one day things can be good again between your family.

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Darwin July 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I think things are too far gone to reconcile at this point, or at least not have it really weird in the future. But we’re happy and that’s all I can ask for.

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Financial Samurai July 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm

You know me Darwin. I’m always SUPER PUMPED for people who are successful. Success is NOT a zero sum game. So many people can be successful, and it makes me so bullish about our country.

There is more money out there than we know, and folks have gotten really good at keeping things on the down low. It’s the media and all this stuff who like to try and bring people down.

I also think that people are also in general quite happy. How can we not? We live in the USA!

Best,

Sam

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Darwin July 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Success isn’t your doing. Breaking news, Obama just announced your success is due to someone else. I can believe this frigging trainwreck of a “leader”.

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krantcents July 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

i can be happy for other people’s success! Your friends are in a different cycle from you and their priorities may also be different. As I have said before, I surround myself with rich successful friends. Some live in very expensive homes and drive luxury cars. Others pay cash for everything and live a slightly more conservative life. For years I had more than most, but the important part was I had little or no debt. The obvious is not always obvious.

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Darwin July 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm

It’s worked for me; that’s how I landed my real estate deal… my other friend who’s a successful real estate investor.

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Adam Hathaway July 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Once day your brother may wake up and realize what he has done. Lets hope it is before it is too late with you, your mom, and the rest of the family. There is not much that can be done for people like that and I find that everyone knows someone like this.

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Darwin July 16, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Yes, everybody does know someone like this. I am thankful for at least having a normal/happy upbringing. Many people I know can’t even say that.

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slug | sunkcostsareirrelevant.com July 18, 2012 at 11:08 am

Thanks for writing a down to earth post. I’m sorry about your estrangement, but you seem to be handling it the best way you can. Keep surrounding yourself with successful people. It’s amazing how their productivity and positivity can rub off. They also often have good networks that you can leverage for your own greater success.

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Buck Inspire July 18, 2012 at 1:57 pm

When I was younger I had bouts of insecurity, not sure if it was full blown jealousy. I finally have it in check. Part of growing up? Sorry to hear about your brother. My brother is one of my closest friends. I can’t imagine anything else. I love your attitude about your own life and your successful friends. Thanks for sharing!

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20's Finances July 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Dang – that’s sucks that jealousy has put so much between you. Jealousy is so surface level. I can say to myself that I wish I had a second car so I don’t have to take the train in the winter, but when I am honest with myself, I love not having two cars to take care of or spending extra money that can go towards better things.

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Joe @ Retire By 40 July 20, 2012 at 10:45 am

Sorry to hear about your brother and his wife. I’m not jealous of my successful friends. I guess that’s because we have a pretty comfortable life. If life was more difficult for us, I might feel a bit different. I’m happy for all my friends who are doing well.

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Bret @ Hope to Prosper July 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I am thrilled for people who become sucessful and are happy in their sucess. They are often very generous with their advice and encouragement. Some of the nicest and most considerate people I know are wealthy.

Jealousy has no place in sucess or happiness. There is nothing less productive and more demoralizing than wallowing in envy over the success of others. Instead, I try to live my life by my own standards and be thankful for what I have achieved.

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Jamie July 25, 2012 at 2:39 pm

What a great post. My dude and I do not make much money and we live a simple life, and couldn’t be happier.

My family makes a lot of money, has a lot of debt, owns a lot of property, and everyone seems constantly stressed, depressed, and at odds with each other (my parents, sister, nieces and nephew live un-harmoniously together in one of their houses, while I live a few hours away in a coastal town). They are also constantly pushing me to get a higher paying job and buy a house. This has become a joke between Dude and me, for obvious reasons.

I feel badly for people like your brother and his wife, because it seems clear to me that making more money and living in a nicer house would not change much for their happiness and their perspective of their lives and the world around them. Your wife will probably still be thinner, perhaps your children will be friendlier, you will still be closer with your mother, etc, etc.

On the flip-side, I am so happy for people like you, your family, and your friends, who have had such great personal successes and are able to recognize their priorities.

Thank you again for the post. Beautifully written, and such a significant reminder to embrace our choices and define happiness by our OWN standards.

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MB July 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Darwin,
great post!

SUCCESS (or what the social meaning of success is) IS A ZERO SUM GAME. I disagree with the poster that said it isn’t a zero sum game

While you chose a laid back approach in your career, your friends opted for a over-drive.
While you opted to spend quality time with his family, your friends were probably going at it 60-70hrs a week

Fact of life — To get something, we have to give up something. It is quite often what we decide to give up that trumps what we want to get.

It’s not jealousy, but I sometimes wonder what I could have become if I had the same drive like my friends – working overtime, sucking up to bosses, switching jobs every couple of years for bigger paychecks etc etc.

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Lorraine July 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

I sort of have the opposite problem. While I’d like to have a nicer car and be able to do some work on my house, I’m pretty happy with my low key lifestyle. I never wanted to rush around making money, I wanted time to read and write and play with my dogs and see my friends. Have time to help out my family/friends when needed. Do volunteer work.

But I get a lot of pressure from well meaning others to do “more” with my life. I’ve come to hate the word “should.” “You’re such a good writer, you should write a book/start a blog/etc.” I don’t think I’m lazy, I just have different priorities. I write to become a better person, and I’m content with that.

I see how my friends have paid (both with money, time, effort) for what they have, and I’m glad they’re happy with their lifestyle. It’s just what I want.

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Squeezer @Personal Finance Success July 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm

I would not call it jealousy, but when I see someone doing better than me or more well off, I do get envious to be like that other person.

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Darwin August 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Well, it’s probably not unnatural to feel like that sometimes; I think I’ve just moved way further into the “I don’t care” or “I’m actually very happy for them” realm from where I was or from where other people are.

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