For some folks, a favourite activity is comparing themselves with others. Who has the best car? The nicer house? The most friends on facebook? Keeping score can pass the time, but I don’t believe that it helps make one’s life more satisfying. Why?
Comparisons generally go one of two ways—you either feel smug because you are better off or you’re resentful because you are worse off.
If comparing doesn’t help, then what practices do contribute to a satisfying life?
I (and many others) have spoken about gratitude. If you build a habit of gratitude, your outlook could become more positive. When you’re positive, you’re more pleasant to be around. Your relationships improve. Then you get more support and encouragement and opportunity. This can result in even more things to be grateful for. It’s a positive feedback cycle that can make life better.
However, it’s hard to get started on that cycle if you are feeling resentful and perceive that others float through life without a care. Good fortune just comes their way. It’s not fair.
You may well be right. Fairness in life is not guaranteed. Frankly, I doubt we’ll ever agree on what fairness even looks like, let alone achieve it. Further, we don’t really know what goes on in other people’s lives, so what we perceive as an easy life may be far from the reality. But there is one thing that we can know—comparing and resenting doesn’t help you.
Unfortunately, even if you agree that comparing isn’t helpful, it’s hard to stop. If you have a habit of comparing, then telling yourself, “Don’t compare with others” is about as effective as telling yourself, “Don’t think of puppies” when there’s a puppy right there staring at you. It’s hard to take your mind off something unless you replace that thought with something else.
Might there be a way to turn that habit into something that’s helpful rather than harmful? I think so.
Here’s my suggestion: Distinguish between “earned successes” and “gifts.”
What’s the difference? Gifts have been given to us with little or no effort on our part. For example, perhaps you were born to loving parents or you have been given life without a devastating disease. Perhaps you are gifted with intelligence, insight, empathy or other prized qualities.
Contrast those with earned successes. Those are the outcomes we achieve through work, effort and persistence. That might include career advancement, educational achievement, or money management discipline that enables you to afford what’s important to you.
We don’t have much control over our gifts or anyone else’s. They have been given—or not. But we do have some control over our earned successes.
If you find yourself comparing your life with someone else, differentiate between their gifts and earned successes. Focus on their earned successes (which you might be able to emulate) rather than their gifts (over which you have no control.)
How did they earn their success? Are they doing things differently than you are? If you don’t know, you could reach out and ask.
I’ll offer this statement for you to consider: You can build a more satisfying life by being grateful for your gifts and by working persistently toward earning your successes.
What do you think? Is that true?
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
- Choosing Behaviour
- Choosing Perspective
- Control and Choice
- Develop Understanding
- Doing, Thinking, Feeling, Physiology
- How it is sometimes
- Love & Belonging
- Perception & Reality
- Personal Freedom