“I just don’t know how we’re going to attend all of these parties,” your next-door neighbor croons when you bump into each other at the grocery store. She’s loading her cart with cocktail sauce and shrimp, presumably to bring to one of her holiday soirees. Although it’s a freezing twenty-seven degrees outside (feels like nine), she’s dressed to impress and is even wearing heels. Before she can start in on whatever la-di-da Christmas present she’s pretty sure her husband is buying for her, you make an excuse about needing to stop at the post office before the lunch rush.
Later when your partner comes home, you ask him why your social calendar is mostly empty. Aside from his office holiday party, you haven’t been invited to a single one. Of course, you hadn’t given it much thought until you ran into what’s-her-name. Before that you were too busy getting the house ready for Santa, buying the stocking stuffers, planning your family’s Christmas breakfast, and urging your spouse to get the lights up so you wouldn’t be the last ones on the block displaying your festive spirit.
According to Carla Florin, author of "How to Get Over Status Anxiety" on Psychology Today, "Envy is a toxic emotion, because whatever the yardstick—money or appearance or reputation—someone will always outdo you." Supposedly, the compulsion to compare one's self to others abates over time. Furthermore, high status doesn't equal happiness. Who's to say that the well-heeled woman is truly happy? Perhaps having a ton of holiday invitations would only serve to give you anxiety.
It's natural--a common reflex even--to compare ourselves to our neighbors, but the productive thing to do is to allow the envy to motivate and bolster you. Do you really care about having the biggest Christmas tree on the block? Or the fanciest decorations? "Figure out what's really important to you and mentally withdraw from competitions that aren't close to your heart," writes Florin. Think of scenarios where you come out on top. Maybe your holiday shortbread is the the most sought after treat in your annual cookie exchange. Maybe you're the best gift wrapper in town. You get the idea.
The fact is, most of what we think will bring us joy won't actually make us happy. It turns out that we are "notoriously bad at judging what will give us long-term satisfaction versus just short-term pleasure."
Your family and your relationships are your key to long-term satisfaction. Nurturing those meaningful and essential relationships is bound to make you a happier person in the long run, far more than throwing a fully catered New Year's Eve party to impress your guests.
If you should decide to host a little holiday gathering of your own, forget about trying to upstage anyone. Instead, just focus on having fun.
Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?