The Comparison Trap
It’s a complex world out there. Are we on the right path? Are we doing what we should be doing to make it in the scramble to put together a happier, more successful life? How do we know?
One technique is to compare ourselves. This is how we make all our judgements and estimates. This is how any appraiser works. Just ask your realtor. They use comparables. So we look at how our peers are doing. How do our achievements measure up against their achievements? Almost all of us do this. It seems like an obvious and natural way to assess how well our lives are stacking up. But as we learn the hard way, this often doesn’t end well.
There’s many reasons this doesn’t work. To begin with, we don’t really see all the details of the lives of others. The skeletons stay in the closet and we only see their “shiny side.” People put their best foot forward so to speak. In our minds we put together a picture of the lives of others that is built on perceptions that may or may not be accurate. We tend to see their Superman side. As a rule we don’t compare well to this picture, which leaves us feeling like we’re under achieving. Failing.
There will always be others who are more successful than us in different areas of our lives, no matter who we are or what we’ve achieved.
Comparison and Gratitude
Arguably the most successful technique for increasing your level of happiness is to practice gratitude. One way to do this is through comparison, however now we’re not comparing ourselves to the ideal images of our peers, but to those who lack the good fortune we have been lucky enough to enjoy in our lives.
Imagine for a moment if a man living 5000 years ago was suddenly hurtled forward into the present. If he came upon you sitting in your car, dressed in your warm, comfortable clothes, with your smartphone and a cup of coffee, he would think he had come upon a god. But, in truth, all he has come upon is someone lucky enough to have been born at the right time, in the right place. You did nothing special to deserve this. Fate had just landed you here, in this place, at this time. Now compare everything you have, everything you probably take for granted, to what little he has.
With the flick of a switch you can create light in the dark. Small devices that fit in your hand can provide visual and auditory entertainment, education, and communications from people and place thousands of miles away. Stores filled with food, and beverages from around the world are available to us. Imagine how someone from 5000 years ago would feel if suddenly all this were made available to them.
In truth, you don’t need to compare yourself to someone from the past. Billions of people around the globe suffer everyday from everything from hunger to severe oppression. Here we sit, warm, safe, and comfortable. And we owe it to luck. We’ve done nothing for it. Some people might feel we owe an un-repayable debt, for all we have. Some would be grateful each and everyday.
Practicing a daily ritual of gratitude can be a very effective technique for elevating your level of happiness. There’s a variety of ways to approach it.
Some people keep a gratitude diary.
Some people start or end their day with a review of things they are grateful for.
To fully appreciate the benefits you must not only express them externally but you need to internalize them. You need to make gratitude a part of who you are. This takes practice.
According to Robert Emmons, the benefits of practicing gratitude are far reaching and spread to all areas of our lives.
- It benefits our relationships.
- It reduces and helps manage issues of depression.
- Grateful people tend to be greater achievers.
- Grateful people are inclined to be more generous and forgiving.
- Grateful people are more resilient to trauma.
- Grateful people exercise more.
- Grateful people experience better sleep.
- Grateful people experience lower blood pressure and other positive health outcomes.
The practice of gratitude is a powerful and valuable tool in our effort to live a happier life.
There is much more to say about the topic of gratitude, and I will visit this topic again in future posts.
Thanks for reading.