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Salary Envy Can Actually Make You Happier

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It's extremely common to look around at your peers who earn more than you do and bemoan your lack of personal income. But, according to a new study, that could be a good thing; a little salary envy could in fact make you a happier person.

While that might sound crazy, a team of economists from the University of St Andrews School of Economics and Finance in the UK has found that—for those under the age of 45, at least—people get higher levels of satisfaction from seeing their peers earn more than they do.


Why? Because they think they have similar chances of success. In other words, seeing your peers earn more than you shifts your perception of earning potential, making you believe you can equal or better theirs in the future. In turn, that makes the years ahead look just rosy, and the result is a happier you.

But Professor Felix FitzRoy, one of the researchers, points out to the Telegraph that this aspirational effect can have its downsides:

"What it does emphasise is how important aspirations are for young people," he said. "In a situation like current austerity, these aspirations are being systematically destroyed because young graduates are lucky to get jobs and if they do, they are usually below their qualifications.

"We can conclude that this is particularly damaging to their self-esteem and of course, we find in virtually all studies that unemployment has very damaging effects."


That's not where the bad news stops, either. The study also found that the trend doesn't continue above the age of 45; comparisons with high-flyers in later life make people unhappy because they think they don't have the time time to catch up before they retire. So, for anyone nudging 40, the race is on. [Felix FitzRoy (PDF) via The Telegraph]