Your Success in 2018 and the Green Eyed Monster of Others…

Staring a new year in the face brings dreams of success both big and small: from losing a couple of pounds to drinking less, running a great 10k time, starting a business, being promoted – our new years’ resolutions cover a multitude of possibilities. The hope that they hold is both exciting and exhilarating. But with success comes envy, and sadly it’s our closest peers who will feel most unsettled by our achievements and we by theirs. This unspoken truth can leave us confused – we want our friends to be happy yet these horrid and poisonous feelings creep in. Bitterness, envy, resentment, disdain, threat or feelings of inferiority all come with the territory of someone else’s success.

But these emotions are natural and don’t make us ‘bad people’. Evolutionary psychologists explain how they enabled our ancient ancestors to evaluate status within a group. Having higher status meant access to better resources (e.g. food, sexual partners, social alliances, safety). So, the negative emotions felt when someone similar succeeded was a motivation to readdress the balance and to do better yourself. Say for example, a friend had better spoils from hunting, the discomfort would motivate you to take action so that you and your family had an equal chance of survival as theirs. Importantly, this comparison mattered most when it was amongst peers, rather than someone in another tribe. This is why our friends may feel more uncomfortable about our success than people who are only acquaintances.

Fast forward several thousand years and these emotions are complicated by cultural responses. While countries such as the USA hold success up as something to be celebrated (e.g. people such as Oprah Winfrey are heralded in the media as ‘The Name of Success’) in the UK, we are equally celebratory about someone successful failing (e.g. when Branson’s balloon didn’t make it around the globe the headlines read Branson’s ‘glorious failure’). A cousin who worked in the USA and has now returned to Australia has noticed the same cultural contrast and mentioned something called the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” described as “a tendency in Australian society to try and cut down people who are considered to be too successful or prominent (cutting the tall poppies down to size). Australians generally don’t like others to do too well.”[1] Gossip, disapproval, discrediting or undermining others in the way we belittle attempts such as Branson’s, all serves to bring people back down to size. Every day examples may sound like: “Do you know that she only lost 4lb because she cut out all carbohydrates, that’s so dangerous and there’s no way she’ll be able to maintain it.” or “He only got promoted because he went on that trip with the boss and had his ear for 48 hours.” I’m not suggesting that the USA is free from these tendencies nor that every Brit or Australian detests the success of their peers but culture certainly plays its part in exacerbating the issue.

So, what do you do if you feel a bit of envy creeping in:

  1. Celebrate your friends’ success – it will help take away the sting.
  2. Recognise that it’s normal (and does not pose a threat to your survival).
  3. Decide what to do: unhelpful responses – engage with or suppress the emotion.  helpful responses – acknowledge and accept the emotion, leave it alone and move on. Or use it to motivate you to achieve equal success
  4. Acknowledge that outward success shows no indication of the inward life that someone is leading – their personal struggles, trials and tribulations. Take for example Robin Williams, his numerous awards indicate someone who would be envied by his peers, yet he was a troubled man who took his own life.
  5. Celebrate your friends’ success (yes again)!

And when facing the envy of others:

  1. See negativity directed your way for what it is – a display of a primitive emotion and a need for that person to make themselves feel better.
  2. Try not to inadvertently flaunt your success to people who are struggling to achieve. This may seem obvious but in the excitement of our own achievements we can forget to stop and think about how other people may be feeling.
  3. Keep going – negativity can make you feel like you want to stop, after all that will make any scorn go away. You may fear you’ll lose your friends or subconsciously believe that you need to moderate how far you go. But just because others haven’t achieved what you have that doesn’t mean you should hold yourself back. Your real friends will stick with you however high you soar. Shoot for the stars!

Happy New Year and may you achieve all you set out to in 2018!


N.B. While celebration of success in the USA has its positives it also has more negative connotations such as blaming those who do not make it for not trying hard enough. 

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[1] Oxford Dictionaries blog

CHAPTER The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy, Sarah E. Hill and David M. Buss pp. 61. In Envy: Theory and Research by Richard Smith (2008)

No One Has Ever Become Poor From Giving

Quote: Anne Frank, Picture: Elizabeth Waight Photography

Giving may seem like an obvious topic for this time of year but ‘it’s not just for Christmas’ – giving is relevant every single day of the year. Gifts yes, but also time, help, friendship, charity, donations, blood, a hug, a kiss or simply a smile.

The Evolution of Giving

If you conjure up an image of our ancient ancestors out on the planes struggling to survive, it’s not a helpful friendly giving sort of a chap that comes to mind. Being helpful doesn’t feel like a natural behaviour to display in life and death scenarios where surely the priority becomes looking out for number one?

Research suggests not, that altruism is actually favoured over selfishness (although science doesn’t always agree on why) meaning that humans evolved to give over taking, because it actually aided survival. To work with and cooperate with other people proved to be a much more effective way of staying alive than not caring about anyone else. Ultimately this means that we have evolved to be givers, even when in the harshest of environments.

Our Brain Rewards Us For Giving

As a result, deep within the more primitive area of our brain lies a mechanism that releases the ‘Happiness Trifecta’ of neurochemicals: dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, when we display altruistic behaviour.

Initially, the act of giving leads to the release of oxytocin which boosts mood and counters the negative effects of the stress hormone cortisol. This creates a positive cycle, encouraging us to want to help others or ‘give’ more and also triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, which lead us to pleasant and rewarding feelings.

Other benefits also result from this, oxytocin for example allows us to more readily form social attachments[i], to more effectively read and infer other people’s mental states and to show greater emotional empathy[ii]. From a physiological perspective Oxytocin is also known to reduce pain and enhance wound healing[iii]. Dopamine has its own set of benefits including regulating mood, behaviour, sleep[iv] and cognition (i.e. thinking and decision making)[v]. Serotonin then tops the benefits up further by aiding effective sleep, relaxation, appetite control, improving memory formation and enhancing learning capability.

The release of these chemicals when we give to others, may help explain some of the broader health related benefits associated with altruistic behaviour. Studies have for example found that altruistic behaviour reduces our risk of death by buffering the impact of stress[vi].  So, in short – giving is as good for us both psychologically and physiologically as it is to the person we are giving to.

Giving is Good for Business

Not convinced yet? U.S. Organisational Psychologist Adam Grant who has written a book called Give and Take explains that takers are people who are self-serving in their interactions and who always wants to know ‘what’s in it for me’. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people that he calls givers, who approach the majority of interactions with the question “What can I do for you?”

Grant surveyed over 30,000 people across industries worldwide and found that even when accounting for cultural differences that most people actually lie in the middle. These matchers, try to keep an even balance of give and take – “I’ll do something for you if you do something for me.”

Initially his results look negative, he found that the lowest performing people were givers. But he also found that the very highest performing people were also givers. In my work I see both, those who give and are taken advantage of at one end of the spectrum and those who give without being walked over, who ultimately get far ahead of matchers and takers.

Grant explains using how Adam Rifkin a very successful serial entrepreneur who spends a great deal of his time helping others is a positive example of how to do this right. Rifkin’s personal key to giving without being taken advantage of is what he calls the five minute favour. He says “You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or Gandhi to be a giver. You just have to find small ways to add large value to other people’s lives.” Other tips that Grant offers include: scheduling time for giving, ‘chunking’ your helping behaviours into blocks of time rather than ‘sprinkling’ them throughout your week, giving in ways that align with your own and the organisations goals rather than doing things that force you to make tradeoffs and doing things that allow you to see the impact of your giving – where things make a significant difference.

So, while it may be nice to receive presents, if you’re feeling a little scrooge like, remember that it’s also good to give – good for the soul, your health and if you do it right even your career.


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Grant, A. (2014). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.