As a therapist and a person, I hear time and time again “I just want to be happy” or “I’m not sure why I am not happy.” Upon further discussion it almost always leads to the other person comparing themselves to others around them. Whether it is a single person comparing themselves to all of their paired-up friends or a person in a dead-end job comparing themselves to people they know that are successful. Comparisons.
I’m not sure when humans as a species first learned to compare themselves to others around them but I bet it is similar to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” After all, how did we determine who the fittest was or how could we be fitter than the fittest if we first did not compare ourselves to our fellow humans?
This logic might have worked for us back when we had to run from wild animals, but like many evolutionary traits (like the fight or flight response!) they don’t have nearly as much use as they did way back when.
Now, in the modern world, we use that “comparison trait” to compare ourselves to others who already excel in one area where we are weak. Like my earlier examples of single vs. in-a-relationship or in a dead-end job vs. successful. This is not a very fair comparison at all since the other people already have something that you desire. Sometimes this type of comparing can lead to people working harder to surpass others, but more often it leads to unhappiness.
So how does this all relate to happiness?
I’m not sure we can do away with the “comparison trait” all together, but we can turn the focus more inward than outward.
Instead of comparing yourself to what others choose to show you, you can compare your current self to your former self.
Make your own happiness dependent on whether you are growing as a person and completing goals you set out for yourself. Every person is unique and has unique ways they grow. This cannot be fairly compared to the growth or success of someone else. It can be as big as taking a chance and asking someone out that you’ve had a crush on or as small as cleaning your house. Both examples create a sense of personal accomplishment that involves no comparisons.
Three Ways in which to do this:
- Start a happiness journal/log and log 3 things you were grateful for that day. Do this for a month and see what happens.
- Have a bunch of hobbies you never have time for? Make a list of hobby goals (for yourself!) and set out to accomplish them. ie. learning to cook, learning a new language etc. Make sure it’s easily measurable so you can compare your progress and growth!
- Comparing yourself to others looks-wise? Make fitness goals and keep track of your progress. Fitness goals are a good choice because they are about YOU and are easily measurable.
There you have it–whether or not you choose to focus on internal or external happiness is on you.