Everything is Relative: How to Re-Frame Things to be Happier

I just got back from a family vacation in which both of my sisters and their families, and my mom, stayed at my oldest sister's lake house. And the things I thought about and talked about this week can be quite eye-opening for a lot of people - even myself.

Some background: my oldest sister is the rich one of the family (hence, the lake house). And while we were there, she was talking about how they spent $13,000 here, and $20,000 there. Some was on a dock, a pontoon lift, landscaping, and other things. One thing you should know is that they are hardly ever there. They rent another house (a big one) near the city where they work. This lake house is 4 hours away from where they live, so they can't go there very often.

So let me tell you a short story that led me to writing this article. When we were on our way home, my mom and I were riding in my car together. As soon as she got in she said, "Oh, you fixed your air conditioning!" As you guessed, my air conditioning was broken in my car for quite a while. It started going out last summer, and I got it re-charged twice for $200 bucks a pop each time. Then, after a few months, it completely broke. But since it was nearly fall, I suffered through it rather than spending what I knew was going to be a small fortune to fix it.

But as soon as the hot temperatures rolled around this summer, I knew I couldn't wait any longer. And so when my mom made that remark, I said, "Yeah, I got it fixed for $2,400! Gulp!!" Then I went on to make a comment about how my rich sister and her husband had no idea what it was like to stress about money.

Here was my line of thinking. They make a lot of money, own a 4,000 square foot house on a big, beautiful lake, and still have enough money to rent a 3,500 square foot house (not to mention all the traveling they do).

Once we got back from the lake house, my sister even made a comment about the rented house and how she gets frustrated because it isn't updated. True, it's a bit out of date, but so is my house. I have lived here 15 years and have yet to update my kitchen. I desperately want to do it, but have opted to make only small changes because I just can't really afford a big remodel.

So, as you can imagine, when I heard my sister complain about her un-updated rental house, I kind of cringed inside. I thought, "you own a freaking lake house for crying out loud and you're complaining about this kitchen?!?"

But as my mom and I were driving in that car and I made the comment about my sister not knowing what it's like to stress about money, my mom gently corrected me. She said something along the lines of, "Honey, she does stress about money. It's just at a much higher level than you do. Your $2,400 is her $20,000."

Wow. I guess I never thought of it that way before. Even though I pride myself on being good at things like expressing empathy and re-framing things. I just never really re-framed it like that, although I should have.

It probably sounds like I'm jealous of my sister. But I'm not. Honestly, I kept saying to my kids all week, "It's great to have rich relatives, isn't it?!" I truly am grateful that I get to share in her lifestyle once in a while (without having to pay for it or having to work as hard as she does!).

All of this rambling about my summer vacation is to make the point that everything really is relative. I knew that. For crying out loud, I teach that in my classes! So why did I forget that so easily when I was comparing my lifestyle to my sister's?

Most people in the world live on less than $750 per year. Yes, you read that correctly. So, even though I was feeling like the poor sister this week, I really had to re-frame it and say to myself, "I am among one of the richest people on planet earth." Sure, sometimes it doesn't feel like we are. But if you have food on the table and a roof over your head, you are among the privileged few.

In our society, we think that rich people are the lucky ones. We think they have no worries or stress in life. That is definitely not true. They just have different worries and different stresses. I should probably also tell you that my sister and her husband work their butts off. They are always at work. And you know what? They earned every penny and every lake house they buy.

We always think the grass is greener on the other side. But it's not. I'm sure there are plenty of billionaires who are miserable, and some homeless/poor people who are quite happy.

So instead of thinking everyone has it better than you, try re-framing everything. You just never know what's going on with people or what they have sacrificed to get where they are. Even if their life looks perfect from the outside, that's not necessarily the case.

The bottom line? Appreciate what you have. And don't compare yourself to other people.