One of the most common sources of unhappiness stems from our tendency to compare ourselves with others. We are taught from an early age that we need to measure up against our peers. Our skills and abilities are compared and put into classes or levels. We have tests that assess us against others. We are also bombarded by mass media that serve up ideals that we should strive to live up to.
Being competitive can have its positive aspects of course. But we need to recognise where being competitive is being helpful and where it is not. Is that competitive spirit getting out of proportion such that is impacting our integrity and our personal happiness?
Comparing ourselves with others is often counter-productive especially when it make us feel rubbish about ourselves or arouses feelings of jealousy or envy. As with many emotions, there are healthy versions and unhealthy ones. Envying someone for having something you do not have is all well and good if it inspires you and urges you onwards towards a worthy and rational goal. It is not so good if it damages your relationship with that person unnecessarily and diminishes your motivation and sense of welbeing.
If you recognise the latter happening to you, try this “Apples and Oranges Zoom-Out”.
When we compare ourselves with others we are invariably Zooming-In on one attribute. That person has eyes that are more beautiful then mine; that person has more money than me; that person has a bigger house; that person has a higher status in this company; that person seems to get more attention than I do; the list is endless.
What we need to recognise is that comparing ourselves with another person based on a single attribute is crazy. It is literally, as the saying goes, like comparing apples with oranges. OK you may both be of the same species but there are a countless number of attributes by which you differ so singling out one for comparison is clearly ridiculous. It’s actually worse than comparing apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing a pebble with a cloud.
Need some convincing?
Consider comparing all of these attributes in addition to the one you singled out. Note that we tend to focus on what we can see or perceive in the moment and the physical world. But there are ‘unseen’ attributes that make up the whole person. These include:
- emotional landscape
- emotional intelligence
- overall happiness / well-being
- life history
- future life / longevity
- good deeds
- bad deeds
- contributions to the world
- family members
- carbon footprint
- thickness of skin
- lung capacity
- inside leg measurement
If you could visualise all of these then it would look like comparing two creatures from different worlds.
Instead of ranking yourself against others, see yourself for what you are, a totally unique individual, in a society comprised of totally unique individuals. A competitive spirit may be good but do not limit your potential and miss lifes opportunities by limiting the view of yourself to a single attribute in any moment. This uniqueness of yourself and others is to be celebrated. It contributes to the rich tapestry of life. Imagine if we were all clones. How dull would that be?
So the next time you are comparing yourself with another person, remind yourself that this is often counterproductive and unhelpful and try the Apples and Oranges Zoom-Out to gain a more useful perspective.