Have you ever felt like you’re in an endless competition with your neighbors? You’re not alone.
According to a recent survey by LendingTree, financial pressure to compete with neighbors next door is felt by 17% of Americans overall. Still, that figure jumps to over one-third (36%) for those living under the watchful eye of a homeowner’s association.
From keeping up with the Joneses to battling over holiday decorations, this competition can take many forms in our communities.
In this post, we’ll explore the psychology behind why neighbors feel the need to compete and one-up each other.
Understanding the root causes can help foster healthier relationships and prevent petty rivalries from spiraling out of control. Let’s dive in!
1. Insecurity: Do I measure up?
Many neighborly competitions stem from basic human insecurity. If someone lacks self-confidence, they may constantly compare themselves to those around them.
For insecure neighbors, this often leads to enviously eyeing what others have.
You’ve probably seen it before – endless comparing of homes, cars, landscaping, or even children’s achievements. These neighbors desperately try to outperform others in order to prove their worth and gain validation. They’re driven by an inner voice asking, “Do I measure up?”
John, a recently divorced dad, struggled with these feelings. As he watched his neighbors installing expensive solar roof panels, he felt inadequate. John went into debt to install the same panels, trying to prove he was just as successful. This pattern left him anxious and financially unstable.
The lesson? Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for discontent. Focus on your own values to avoid this insecure trap.
|Comparing homes, cars, achievements
|Insecurity, trying to measure up
|Coveting what others have
|Jealousy and envy
|Flaunting status symbols
|Seeking validation and admiration
|Trying to outdo others
|Competitiveness, never satisfied
2. Jealousy: I want what they have
Jealousy is closely related to insecurity as a driver of competition. Human nature makes us covet what others have. When we see neighbors acquire something new, jealousy can set in.
This might include a luxury car, a new boat, or even intangibles like a thriving business or happy marriage. Either way, jealousy fuels a desire to one-up them.
My neighbor Chad was extremely jealous when he found out I was taking my family on a Hawaiian vacation.
The next week, he booked a trip to Fiji, making sure to rub it in about how exotic his destination was compared to mine. His jealousy turned our street into a tropical battleground!
The antidote? Appreciate what you have instead of fixating on what you lack. Chad would have been better off feeling grateful for his life rather than letting envy take over.
It’s easier said than done, but it’s a worthwhile goal.
3. Status: Keeping up appearances
Many competitions come down to status and keeping up appearances. For some, their self-worth gets tied to having all the status symbols of a “successful” life.
This could mean building the biggest house on the block, buying a premium car, or joining the most exclusive country club. The goal is to publicly signal they are living the ideal lifestyle.
Just look at the McMansions popping up in suburbs around the country. They keep getting bigger each year! For these status seekers, their home is an advertisement of how they want the world to perceive them.
Of course, true happiness doesn’t come from superficial status symbols. But for some neighbors, those shiny objects are irresistible. Just don’t get sucked into thinking you need to keep up with the Joneses next door!
4. Social media influences
In today’s hyper-connected world, social media intensifies neighborly competition. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok give us an instant peek into other people’s lives. The rise of influencers also pushes unrealistic standards.
|Impact on Neighbors
|Carefully curated posts
|Feel inadequate compared to staged perfection
|Pressure to keep up with latest fads
|Diminished self-worth from comparing real life to highlights
|Decreased satisfaction with unedited reality
Seeing carefully curated posts of your neighbors’ vacations or renovations can trigger feelings of inadequacy. You start questioning why your life doesn’t look as perfect.
This social media culture breeds jealousy and pressures neighbors to stage their own picture-perfect content. Suddenly, keeping up with the Joneses includes having the trendiest farmhouse decor or exotic travel adventures to show off.
The constant compare and despair culture is draining. Be wary of letting apps like Nextdoor turn into a highlight reel contest with your neighbors. Focus on real life, not curated images!
5. The need to belong
Humans have an innate need to be accepted by a group and form bonds. Evolutionary psychology suggests this motive stems back to our tribal roots.
Unfortunately, this inherent need to belong can also fuel competition between neighbors. When people desperately want to fit into their community, they go overboard, trying to impress.
A new guy, Ned, on our block relentlessly hosted parties and events to insert himself into the scene. While his intentions were good, they came across as competitive. In his eagerness, he didn’t realize we’d welcome him without the fanfare!
The takeaway – don’t let your need for belonging spiral into one-upmanship. Your neighbors will probably accept you as you are.
6. Boredom: Lack of fulfillment
On the surface, boredom may seem harmless. But idle hands can lead neighbors into unhealthy competition.
Some people lack purpose, passion, or fulfillment in their lives. Faced with boredom, they turn to petty rivalries and comparison to fill the void.
My retired neighbor Kevin is constantly staring out his window. He obsesses over what others are doing – how green their lawns are, what mail they get, or when they leave their homes. His boredom fuels weird competitions born from latching onto the only excitement he finds.
The takeaway? Don’t let boredom lead you down this path. Find meaningful activities, hobbies, and ways to help others. You’ll be too engaged in your own life to worry about fabricated competitions next door.
7. Scarce resources: First come, first served
Anytime resources are scarce, competition heats up as people vie to get their share. This definitely applies in neighborhoods.
Finding parking, accessing amenities, or using shared public spaces like parks all become battlegrounds when supplies are limited. People’s inherent selfishness emerges.
My densely populated neighborhood has epic fights over street parking. Ms. Smith even saves “her” spot with lawn chairs! Similarly, pool access stirs up feuds each summer. Neighbors race to reserve precious slots first.
When supplies are limited, people understandably want to secure theirs. But it easily spirals into animosity between neighbors. Sharing mindfully prevents this.
|Saving spots with lawn chairs
|Pool access slot reservations
|Rushing to use parks first
8. Protecting property values
For homeowners, property values are a huge deal. Entire neighborhood reputations and home equity get tied to them. It’s no surprise neighbors compete to protect and increase them.
Nearly every improvement neighbors make – from lavish landscaping to home additions – aims to boost property values. Even disputes over fence lines or tree branches often trace back to safeguarding assets.
Newer neighbors may also flaunt expensive renovations to signal the area is ascending. This quickly pressures long-timers to spruce up their aging properties. No one wants to be left behind with the least valuable house!
Of course, focusing solely on financial value causes headaches. Instead, view your home as the place that shelters the people and memories you cherish most.
9. Fear of missing out (FOMO)
Have you heard of FOMO – the fear of missing out? It’s a huge driver of neighborly competition.
FOMO makes people constantly feel others are having more fun or living better lives. This fuels a thirst to keep up with the latest trends and experiences in your community.
I’ll admit, when my neighbors got a trampoline, I succumbed to FOMO. My kids begged for one, too, so they wouldn’t miss out on the fun next door. While bouncing is cool, I should have avoided that knee-jerk envy reaction.
The lesson? Don’t let FOMO blindly lead you into superficial competition. You’ll go broke trying to keep up with every house down the street. Focus on your own family’s needs.
10. Parenting and education
For families with kids, parenting can become a full-contact sport. Schools, grades, activities, and accomplishments all get judged and compared.
My neighborhood’s parenting rivalry is intense. During college application season, you can cut the tension with a knife. Others brag about PSAT scores or varsity sports all year long.
This competitiveness stems from wanting the best for our kids. We all experience pressure to give our children advantages and opportunities.
But this “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality drains the joy from parenting. Our kids’ paths are theirs, not trophies for us. Try to mute the inner voice, comparing your child to others. Easier said than done, I know!
11. Clashing lifestyles and values
Neighbors with very different lifestyles or values sometimes compete to assert superiority. Tensions around politics, religion, or even diet choices can brew.
A vegetarian family on my street was always criticizing my BBQ habit, claiming meat was unethical. I fired back about how being judgemental wasn’t very “zen” of them. Things escalated from there, turning into a quarrelsome debate each time we interacted.
In the end, we agreed to live and let live. Don’t let differences devolve into endless competition. You don’t have to see eye to eye with neighbors on every issue.
|Clash over social views
|Lack of understanding
12. Community involvement
For some neighbors, life becomes a competition to demonstrate who is the most engaged in the community.
Volunteering, knowing everyone’s name, hosting events, leading the neighborhood watch – you name it. They relentlessly involve themselves in everything.
Don’t get me wrong, community spirit is great. But some neighbors take it too far in a quest for prominence. They insert themselves into each activity to cement their status as “super residents.”
If that energy stemmed from pure intentions, I’d be all for it. But for these folks, it is more about fueling their ego than any altruism. Just be wary of their ulterior motives.
13. Noise and disruptions
I’ll never forget the epic noise war between the Jones and Smith households. Late-night subwoofers, early-morning leaf blowers, and car alarm “pranks” tormented both sides. Each retaliated against the other’s disruptions.
In reality, they were competing to assert dominance and control the soundscape of our block. Both felt entitled to make noise whenever they pleased.
Noise conflicts are common but avoidable. A little courtesy goes a long way. I finally mediated a truce between them to restore the tranquility of our street.
14. Battling over pets
Pet disputes are another common spark for neighborly competition. Barking dogs, wandering cats, and messy cleanup can cause friction.
Tensions grew when my neighbor’s dog kept doing his business on our lawn. I finally installed an invisible fence along the property line to keep him out. My neighbor saw this as an act of aggression and retaliated by calling animal control about my nephew’s noisy parakeet.
In the end, we agreed to reasonable compromises about both pets. With goodwill, neighbors can avoid letting animal issues turn into full-blown feuds.
15. Personality clashes
At times, competition is born from personality differences and outright personal conflicts. Some neighbors rub each other the wrong way.
One of my neighbors was a grumpy, opinionated man who clashed with my cheery optimism. Our worldviews were polar opposites. He’d criticize my Christmas lights display as tacky, and I’d scold him for being a Scrooge.
I learned to live with our differences and avoid his traps to bicker. With maturity, you recognize not all neighbors will become best friends. As long as there’s civility, you can co-exist.
16. Health and fitness displays
Fitness buffs sometimes turn neighborhoods into personal showrooms to flaunt their hard work. Ripped neighbors may install outdoor gyms in their front yards or leave garage doors open while exercising.
I’ll admit, when my next-door neighbor put a basketball hoop and free weights on his driveway, I was tempted to do the same. Part of me wanted to showcase that I was also health-conscious.
But soon, I realized this could spark unhealthy competition. Don’t let exercise become a contest with neighbors. There are better motivations for getting in shape than vanity.
17. Holiday decorations
My neighborhood’s holiday decoration game is real. Each year, from Halloween skeletons to Christmas light shows brings new elaborate displays.
Last Christmas, the entire block seemed to team up on poor Charlie, who usually had humble decorations. They pooled money together to hire a lighting crew to turn his home into a glitzy showcase.
While initially annoyed, Charlie came around and is now proud of his Griswold-esque display. In the end, we all want that festive spirit lighting up our streets.
A little friendly decoration competition brings joy as long as it comes from a place of cheer, not petty one-upmanship.
|Skeletons, graveyards, fog machines
|Light shows, inflatables, glitzy displays
Competition among neighbors comes in many forms, some healthy and some less so. We can foster community and prevent rivalries from spiraling out of control with compassion and communication.
At the end of the day, we all want the same things – safe neighborhoods, welcoming streets, and a sense of belonging. Keeping this bigger picture in mind makes overcoming the urge to compete with those around us easier.
So next time you feel that twinge of envy towards your neighbor’s new gadget or the urge to peek through their blinds, take a breath. Focus instead on cultivating your own happiness. Comparison is the thief of joy, after all.
What other neighborly competitions have you witnessed? Share your stories below!