Old friends: One rich, one not
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - For four years, you and your college friends shared everything: housing, meals, classes, hangovers. You even shared the same tax bracket.
Now that you've launched yourselves into adult lives, there are bound to be differences in your means, and not insignificant ones, either.
Maybe they're the result of the professions you chose, the families you came from, the people you married, dumb luck, bad luck or all of the above.
But one thing is clear: Whether you're feeling envious or envied, you either have to make your peace with the divide or risk drifting apart from each other.
Since no one has figured out yet how to check our human nature at the door, managing envy is easier said than done.
Even if you can't mop it up entirely, maybe you could just take a broom to it occasionally.
So here's a checklist that might help if you find yourself obsessing over your friend's net worth or trying to conceal your own.
Envy isn't petty jealousy. It may seem like a minor thing if, say, your envy is fixed on something specific, like a friend's expense account.
More often, though, it's about a sense of loss or remorse about choices you didn't make or potential you didn't realize. The person you envy represents a kind of ideal you haven't lived up to, said Dennis Pearne, a Boston-based clinical psychologist.
It isn't easy being green. But it isn't easy being envied, either. When you make a lot more money than you used to and have a lot more money than your friends, "it can produce a sense of shock or identity loss," says Pearne, who is also a wealth counselor. The effect is even stronger when you inherit a windfall.
The money changes your choices about how you live, the company you keep and the work you seek. It also changes people's expectations of you and may change the way they behave towards you.
Pearne recommends first getting clear about what you want from your money and how, if at all, you want it to change your identity before worrying about your friends' reactions.
If your friends do comment on your means -- directly or indirectly – you can be frank or you can be discreet. But you should be honest if you want to preserve the friendship.
Among the things you might say, Pearne suggests, are along the lines of:
"I do feel very lucky. But I don't want this to ever come between us." Or, "I know I've been fortunate. But I don't think I necessarily have it made since what's really important to me is finding the right person and having kids."
No one is immune from envy. Pearne says that at least 50 percent of his wealthy clients tell him, "I wish I were still the normal Joe."
So while you're busy wondering how great it must be to make an outsized salary, own a beach house or jet off to London at the last minute, your friend may be envying you for having a balanced life, complete with a job, time to spend with friends, a great partner and kids.
Envy is an open invitation to unhappiness. Okay, you're right, it is great to have a ton of money, cool down at the beach house and take last-minute jaunts to London.
Happy? Probably not. The more you envy others, the less likely you are to be satisfied with your own life. Envy is the ultimate wet blanket.
So maybe it's time to appreciate what you do have and make your peace with the fact that someone else will always have more.
"There comes a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, or for worse as his portion," Ralph Waldo Emerson said.
If that's not working for you, you might appreciate the views of a 23-year-old who posted these comments to a MediaBistro.com discussion about having friends with more money:
"When you come from a good school and are used to being at the top, and realize ranking is now determined by account balances, it's tough to adjust to. I spent my time since graduation scraping and comparing, and forgetting many of the things that made me happy except partying ... I plan to change that."