“No one should be allowed to have that much money.” I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count, especially lately. The irony is that each time it was applied to someone from a different income bracket. When I read this post on Get Rich Slowly, it brought to mind a topic that I’ve dealt with for sometime both in my own attitudes and those of others. The article wonders why Americans are so jealous of the wealthy and yet seek that wealth for themselves. To me the answer is simple: it isn’t just Americans, it’s all humans. We each have a different definition of wealth and different perspective on what is too much.

(Not to get political, but this is part of why I dislike the political movements based on “making the wealthy pay because they can afford it.” Most of us define wealthy as anyone who makes more money than we do. That’s hardly an objective definition. Not to mention that cost of living varies so much from one side of theUnited Statesto the other. Someone who is considered wealthy in Kentucky on the same income might qualify for welfare in California.) Human jealousy is as old as time itself. We all struggle with it from time to time and the question becomes, of what benefit is jealousy?

It is easy to look at someone who has more than me, especially someone with A LOT more and vilify him or her. It’s easy to dislike someone who has it all and seems to have life so easy. In the case of stranger envy, I really don’t know how they got their money or what they do with it. I’m only looking on the outside at their fancy car and big house and wishing I could afford those. They could be in debt, they could have worked for years for that money, or they could have inherited it and never worked a day. But in my experience, all that speculation does is make me less satisfied with the life I have. Yes, I can recognize on an intellectual level when I see someone I know personally making poor financial decisions. But being angry or resentful about how he or she chooses to spend money won’t benefit either of us.

I agree that there are bad people who have a lot of money and thus accomplish bad things with their money or those who take advantage of others to achieve their success. But there are also those who accomplish many positives things with their wealth, choosing to live on less and give generously with the rest. I’m going to say something very controversial right now. It isn’t my job or my business how much someone else has. I can only control my own behaviors and attitudes. I have absolutely no say in the wealth of someone else, NOR SHOULD I.

So how to combat jealously when I see a celebrity or politician living large? First, I remind myself that wishing them poorer won’t make me any richer (or them any poorer, if that is the goal).  I need to strive in all things to be content. By contentment I don’t mean complacency. To me, contentment is recognition of the good things I have in my life, coupled with gratitude. The secret to contentment is gratitude. When I focus on being grateful for what I do have, I am taking the focus off of others and their behavior and putting it on myself. It isn’t always an easy thing to do. It is always easier and more pleasant to criticize someone else than to analyze my own heart and motives. Jealousy focuses on what someone else has that I don’t. Gratitude focuses on what I do have and, sometimes, what I have that others don’t. Recognizing how much I am blessed with motivates gratitude, which in turn should motivate generosity. Jealousy only creates dissatisfaction, resentment and bitterness, none of which produce a positive outcome.

When I am looking at myself instead of others, I am in a much better position to evaluate my life and goals, and decide on any changes I wish to make to pursue a different and/or better life. My financial choices should be based only on my own plans in life, not necessarily my desire to achieve what someone else has. But it’s hard to affectively evaluate my own decisions when I’m focused on the life and behaviors of others instead of myself.

So next time your next door neighbor buys a new car or you pass by a McMansion across town and get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach; go home and hug your spouse and children. Eat dinner together. Call a friend who has made a difference in your life. Send a thank you card to a mentor. Or make a good old fashioned list of all the good things in your life for which you can be thankful. It may not make your bank account larger, but it will make what you do have more enjoyable, and it could encourage positive steps towards pursuing the positive goals in your own life.