According to sociologist Robert Merton much strain is caused by the discrepancy between culturally defined goals and the institutionalized means available to achieve these goals. And while this statement is driven by an explanation for why crime occurs (meaning if there’s no legit way to make money I’ll just steal), it highlights why comparison causes strain in society. It’s not simply that others have what we want, it’s the gap. It’s that we feel we don’t have the means to achieve our goals. When that gap is too wide and our goals (whatever they may be) seem out of reach, we feel stress.
What’s important to understand is that the gap is infinite. Once you close one gap, you’re apt to spot another one. There will always be people with more and less than you, that’s just how life works. So ignore the gap, be where you’re at, and be mindful of the gaps you might be creating for someone else.
Photo by Jon LaChance