The Comparing Game.Escape The Comparing Paradigm And Be Your True Self (2015)
Chapter 4: You can’t Compare Happiness
What are we all seeking to become? What is the ultimate point of going through life with goals and aims? Tentatively, it may be surmised that finding and keeping happiness is an ambition we all carry with us. Happiness is even more difficult to analyze than comparison and behaviour, but it is a longing common to each of us. This is why when people compare themselves to others, the conclusions they ultimately draw is that the other is either happier or less happy based on certain social pointers.
Taking into account the factors we discussed in the previous chapters, it is safe to assume that happiness cannot be compared. It cannot be analyzed through comparisons, and it can never be understood through mere observation. Just the way outsiders never truly know what is going on in our lives. So we may say that it is impossible for us to come up with an accurate representation of anybody else’s joy or gratification.
Below are two critical examples of how we tend to compare our happiness with others without an appreciation for the internal reality of others.
Real Life Scenario 1 ( Matthew and David )
Consider Matthew and David, two individuals of the same age, race, gender and nationality. They are easily comparable to each other based on their basic connection. Matt is a wealthy bachelor, a stockbroker with a flourishing retirement fund and a liberal lifestyle. Matt is his parent's only child and has always been spoiled and adored. He went to the best schools, received great education and eventually went on to achieve success in all his professional endeavours. David on the other hand comes from a family of 5 siblings and has managed to do fairly well as a junior manager at a local firm. He generates just enough of an income to support his wife and 4 children. They live in a house just big enough for them but cannot afford any major luxuries.
All they see in each other is what is visible to the world. Matt sees an averagely successful man with a big family. David sees a well to do bachelor with many assets. On the surface, David believes that Matt must be the happiest man on earth; he has plenty of money, few responsibilities, and the freedom to do as he pleases and has always been the apple of his parents’ eye. To David, Matt is the epitome of what a happily settled life must be. David assumes that his highly mediocre existence pales in comparison to the seemingly glamorous life that Matt leads.
In contrast, Matt is the exact opposite. He has felt lonely his entire life, has never had any siblings to play with or spend time with and has never been able to make friends that he may trust. Even now, Matt envies David for the bustling family that he came from, and the fulfilling and enjoyable life he must be living with a wife and children. Matt sees David as a man with priorities, a man who is unable to save much money but who has plenty of people to spend it on. For himself, Matt sees only loneliness as he makes great money but has nothing to do with it except live a free but lonely life. Matt values the traditions and family that David has and considers David a fulfilled person.
Both are correct in their obvious assumptions, but neither are able to look below the surface and realize that their comparison is useless. Ultimately, they are both unhappy because they keep comparing their life to that of someone entirely unrelated to them. They have separate backgrounds in almost every way, and they both have enough in life to keep them happy, if they chose to do so.
Ultimately, it is up to David to be able to find fulfilment in his life and see happiness there, he will never be able to understand his own happiness in comparison to Matt’s because he will never know what Matt truly thinks and feels, and that Matt is in fact comparing himself to David all the while.
Real Life Scenario 2 ( Anne and Ruth )
Two childhood friends meet at a party a decade after graduation from university. Anne has always had a good metabolism, she has always been considered attractive by men and has gone on to become a successful television actress. Ruth has always been the plain one, she has always been self-conscious about being overweight and remembers comparing her beauty to Anne’s from the day they become friends in university.
Upon meeting at the party, both friends immediately click again and enjoy their time with each other. Internally, however, they cannot help comparing their life to the one they are hearing about from their friend.
Ruth can only notice that even a decade later, Anne is still slim and beautiful and on the way to becoming internationally famous. Ruth spends the evening assuming that Anne must lead a contented life because she has what Ruth has always wanted; beauty and recognition. Surely rich and beautiful women can never be unhappy, right?
Little does Ruth know that Anne is struggling with the pressure that her vocation lays on her. Anne has developed an eating disorder because she stresses about gaining weight and become unfit for television roles. Anne recognizes that she's more accurately fits society’s description of beautiful, but still believes Ruth to have lived a happy life and one free from the prying eyes of fans and critics alike.
The friends continue to spend an evening laughing, talking and hiding their secrets and internal worries from each other. They present altered versions of themselves because they believe they need to ‘fit’ into the category that they see their friends in. They will spend a few hours with each other and then go on to analyze their lives in comparison to the others for the rest of the week. Ruth will wonder on about why she never managed to lose enough weight to pursue a career in television. Anne will worry similarly, why did she become so obsessed and vain about her looks? Why did she think it was a good idea to remove all vestiges of privacy from her life and go on to become a public spectacle for many years to come?
Both Ruth and Anne have plenty to be happy about, but both also need to take control of their lives. They need to recognize that only by eradicating their own issues will they find true happiness. They each were so busy putting up a front for the outside world and feeling bitter about their perceived failures, neither seemed to notice that the other may have been doing the same thing all evening long.
What do Matt, David, Ruth, and Anne represent? Not failure and not success, but difference. Every life is different, every story is different. Everybody’s state of happiness and satisfaction is different. More importantly, people walk around this judgmental society hiding their realities from the world because they are afraid that they are the only ones with something to hide. Happiness cannot be seen in black & white, but rather in shades of grey. What people feel happy about depends on their desires, actions, and ambitions. What we perceive as happiness in others is usually something we believe would become a source of happiness for us. Since such a phenomenon is not comparable, we must understand that while other people may live a life that impress us, our life may be a source of admiration for somebody else.
Psychologist Daniel Gilbert in his book ‘Stumbling on happiness’ hypothesized that happiness is largely an internal decision and that how happy we are is directly related to how happy we think we are. Gilbert described the science of happiness as a carefully controlled environment in which we are free to make the choices that dictate our perception of our contentment. He also claimed that the most common reason behind our supposed unhappiness is that we forget we are like most people. While uniqueness is a valuable trait to have, most people continue through life with their own set of positives and negatives.
We are all different from each other, but we are all similar in that we consistently judge only that which is visible to the casual observer. The most important aspect of self-analysis is the recognition that our happiness is our own and that we are the only ones who can change it.
In the end, the point to keep in mind is that regardless of how happy we think somebody else is, comparing ourselves to people will never bring any joy to our own lives. Assuming our long lost friend to be more content will never result in us suddenly waking up filled with warmth and joy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Let’s visit the next chapter to better understand the best way to go through this journey towards happiness.