It’s Saturday afternoon – the work week is over and you’re relaxing in the backyard with a good book and a cold refreshing iced tea. You’re feeling pretty good and even somewhat content – life is good!
Then a friend calls to tell you about the amazing new home they just bought overlooking the ocean – suddenly your home seems small and drab.
Feeling a little deflated you decide to go on Facebook in an effort to lift your mood with a hit of a dopamine (yes, that’s the addiction of social media, texts, email… we get little hits of dopamine – which is a feel good
neurotransmitter involved in anticipating a reward – but I’ll save that for another post!)
You see one of your friends posting pictures of their fabulous holiday in Europe – and can you believe they were seated one row back from Hugh Jackman on the flight over? Because of course they flew first class. Now you can’t even remember when your last holiday was.
A lot of the time, we don’t even have to know the person – we can be in line at the supermarket and see some model on the cover of a magazine looking flawless (i.e., airbrushed) – we decide she must be incredibly happy given how she looks and reflect on how we’ll never look that good and therefore, never that happy. Might as well grab a few Snickers bars.
In an instant we feel worse about ourselves.
So what changed?
The dialog in our head changed – NOTHING ELSE!
The story we are telling about ourselves suddenly took on a new direction. If only you had a better job, more money, a perfect figure or a bigger home then you too would be happy.
It’s very hard to NOT compare ourselves to others. It’s a juicy thought with a BIG HOOK! One few of us can ignore.
But I will tell you with practice and a good understanding of the repercussions of this line of thinking you can learn to stop comparing yourselves to others and stop bringing yourself down.
1. You Will ALWAYS End Up Feeling Bad
There is absolutely ZERO upside to comparing yourself to someone else. And a 100% guarantee you will end up feeling bad. When we perceive that someone has more than us, that means that we in some way must be lacking or inadequate. It’s impossible to feel good about yourself while also thinking you’re inadequate.
And if you think you are in some way lacking so will your brain – in particular your amygdala. The amygdala makes you feel threatened – as in you are a victim. So now you will start looking for more reasons to feel bad, in a way justifying the way you are feeling. So then you start making up more stuff about how everything is bad in your life – creating a spiral of negative thinking – at this point you’ve ditched the iced tea and are searching for the vodka.
2. Your Thoughts are Based on False Assumptions
When we think of other people’s lives we tend to look very superficially and we also impute or infer a lot of our OWN ideas about their lives that mostly aren’t true.
For example, we look at the model and automatically assume she must have this fabulous, happy life – and yet we’ve also seen countless interviews of models discussing their addictions, insecurities and body issues. Would you be happy living on carrots and apples?
How many times have you heard of some couple getting a divorce only to say, “But I thought they were so happy.”
Does having a bigger home automatically mean someone is happier than you? Would you like that bigger mortgage too or the pressure to perform better at work to make that bigger mortgage payment?
I’m not trying to imply that everyone is miserable BUT I am trying to show how we impute ideas about other people’s lives all the time and most of the time we are DEAD WRONG!
3. It’s Not Fair to the Other Person
If you have a friend or coworker that secretly you compare yourself to a lot, you will end up with a certain amount of resentment towards them; although you won’t outwardly show this.
Over time this will interfere in your relationship. You just can’t keep telling yourself over and over how someone else has a better life than you and NOT start to feel a bit resentful.
How would you feel if you knew deep down one of your friend’s really resented any good fortune that came your way?
The next time you catch yourself doing this – try to pause for a moment and reflect on where this line of thinking is going: you will feel bad, it won’t be based on reality and it’s unfair to the other person. And then try to come up with one good reason to continue on comparing yourself. If you can’t come up with one good reason to do it then WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?
Remember YOU are the one narrating this story of how someone else is better than you – NO ONE ELSE! If you don’t have a good reason for doing it and it’s obviously making you unhappy isn’t it time to stop doing it?
This is a perfect topic for a contemplation meditation. By examining our habits (and yes, comparing yourself to others is just a habit) while in a calm and peaceful state of mind, we are able to see more clearly examples from our own lives of how this really is true.
That is the point at which you really tear down the old neural networks (for comparing) and build new ones that immediately recognize the dangers of comparing so when that thought arises “they have a better home than me,” you immediately let it go knowing exactly where that story is going and CHOOSING not to make yourself unhappy!
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL JOHNSON