There will always be some people in the world who are prettier than us, richer than us and wittier, smarter, and more cultured too. And some of those people are our friends. And, sometimes, we get jealous of those friends. I’d like to say thank you to science, which has come along to depressingly prove these feelings of jealousy aren’t all in our heads: Your friends actually are better than you in every respect.
In a recent study, researchers in Finland and France call this phenomenon the “generalized friendship paradox,” in which your friends have, on average, “higher characteristics” than you have, whether you’re comparing income, number of friends, or general happiness. This being a paradox, there is a catch—obviously not every single one of your friends makes more money than you, or is happier than you, no matter how many idyllic Instagrams say otherwise.
So how does the generalized friendship paradox make sense? It’s all about averages. Although most people have a small group of friends, a small number of people have tons of friends. When one of your friends falls in the latter category, it messes with the average, thus raising the number of friends your friends have. This, according to the researchers, also extends to categories like wealth and happiness, meaning that your friends—again, on average—are also richer and happier than you.
Although the research doesn’t do much to quell our collective FOMO, it does provide us with one more reason to take a break from social media, where we’re the most likely to waste away while stalking our friends’ lives, which always seem to be more glamorous than our own. The idea that our friends are better than us is one explanation for why active social media users tend to be unhappier than their more Luddite peers. Perhaps this why the Amish avoid taking pictures?