It’s such an easy thing to do, especially when you’re feeling uncomfortable about your own money life.

You look at a coworker who dresses snappily and talks about his second home and think: Why don’t I have all that? Is he making a lot more money than I am? Or you see a neighbor driving her shiny new car into the driveway and assume she’s rolling in dough and stock options.

Or it could be “financial peace” you’re after: You have friends who seem so calm and confident about working toward financial goals like paying for their kids’ college, or socking away money for retirement. You think: They must really have it all together. Why can’t I seem to save as much as they do?

The result of both money-acquisition or financial-peace envy is really the same: You feel disappointed. You become fearful that you’ll never “get ahead.” You worry that somehow you’ve made mistakes and “everyone else” knows secrets about making and keeping money that you’ve missed. Sound familiar?

The truth: You can never compare your financial life to someone else’s.

First: You can’t know the truth of someone else’s financial situation from where you sit. That neighbor with the lovely house and new car might be up to his ears in credit-card debt and sick with worry. The friend who just inherited a huge amount of money might be struggling with family problems like a serious illness or impending divorce that will suck down his nest egg within a couple of years. The friend with kids at expensive private schools could be getting financial life support from her parents—and feeling resentful and guilty about it every day. The thing is: You don’t know.

Even if you know someone who is apparently doing well financially with no baggage attached—their situation has absolutely no impact on you. Being angry at or jealous of them isn’t going to pay your bills more quickly or help you get a better-paying job. In fact, the resentment you harbor could cause you to make impulsive financial choices that worsen your situation. And your jealousy probably won’t make you more creative and raise-worthy at work—and could actually cloud your ability to see good opportunities right in front of your eyes.

You’re spending all your time comparing yourself needlessly to others, when you could be using that energy to do more financial good for yourself.

When you find yourself comparing your family’s financial life –and all the “not good enough” thoughts about it—to someone else’s seemingly perfect life that you really know nothing about, take a deep breath and stop yourself. Remember what you’re doing with your money that is good, no matter how small. Maybe you:

–       Are able to meet your monthly bills without going into debt

–       Refinanced your mortgage at a lower rate

–       Paid off a long-standing debt related to having a baby or treating infertility

–       Are able to donate small amount to a nonprofit organization you love

–       Save money every year for holiday gifts so you avoid further debt

Whatever your money triumphs are, notice and appreciate them. Give them as much—or more—attention than you do your friends’ and neighbors’ apparent successes. After all, your own accomplishments are your basis for making better financial choices this year, next year, and into the future.

Comparing your finances to that of friends and neighbors? Impossible, really, and a habit that just makes you uncomfortable. Why not drop it, and see what happens?

Photo by Hey Paul Studios