“You know, Mom, if we compare ourselves to celebrities, we’re not going to have much. If we compare ourselves to most other people in the world, we really have a lot.”
This statement from my son when he was in his late teens gave me pause. First, because I was impressed he’d recognized an important lesson, but also because I thought about how many people haven’t learned this lesson yet and never do. A friend who really ought to be psyched about what he does have, is struggling right now and can only see how much less he has than ‘everybody’ else.
It’s actually pretty off-putting behavior.
We can spend plenty of time lamenting the fact that somebody else has a bigger house, a cooler car, a more exciting job, fancier clothes, or whatever. Somebody else will always have more than us in one way or another. The same way focusing on the good things in our life helps us appreciate them more, focusing on what we don’t have can easily make us feel diminished and less important or successful than the people we compare ourselves to. We can obsess about it!
Comparing what we have to what others have is a recipe for disaster.
In the case of our possessions, the solution is to realize we are more than our ‘stuff’. We need to stop being jealous of the giant mansions on the hill and appreciate the good times that happen with our favorite people in our own cozy homes. Fun, meaningful times, I’m sure! We need to quit lusting after our rich girlfriends’ wardrobes and pay attention to how great we look and feel in our favorite outfits. We need to stop being angry and frustrated about what we don’t have and start being grateful for what we do have.
It matters because if we can’t be happy about our lives and our selves without the newest and best things, then we won’t be happy when we have them.
It’s like striving for perfection. There’s no such thing as perfection–as soon as we reach a point we think is close, we’ll realize it’s not good enough and move the bar.
I am in no way trying to be insensitive to anyone trapped in impossible financial circumstances. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t ever be jealous, because jealousy happens. Jealousy can be helpful if it lets us realize what we want in life so we set goals and resolutions to achieve those things ourselves. It’s not good if it causes us to become defeatists and complainers and act like victims when we’re not. We need to channel that energy into trying to make good things happen.
You know what they say – When you love what you have, you have everything you need.
There are lots of people who will never have what you have right now. The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for. Happiness never comes to those who don’t appreciate what they already have. (Marc and Angel wrote that.) It’s not always easy but it is possible.
Here’s a little tough love to help you along:
- Look inward. If your ego is wrapped up in your stuff–your cars, clothes, and house–you really need to evaluate why. What’s really missing for you and how can you fill the hole with something lasting and meaningful?
- Lower your standards. I’m not kidding. There’s a point when you’ve got to get Zen about certain things. Nothing is permanent and maybe this is a time when you really need to get serious about wants and needs. So you want/need a new bag? Can you find one at Kohl’s rather than the Coach store? If not, see the first point above.
- Ask for help. Find somebody who can validate your frustration but can also help you work on your attitude and help you appreciate what you do have in a positive way. A really fun site that can help is www.happify.com. They have activity tracks to help you Cope With Stress, Deal With Negativity, Work On Your Relationships and . . . yes, a track called Appreciate What You Have.
- Establish a gratitude practice to help overcome your “negativity bias” that gives more weight to negative rather than positive experiences.Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their relationships and their overall lives. Grateful people have a higher sense of purpose in life, better coping skills, stronger circles of support, and less trouble sleeping (so say Drs. Martin Seligman, Tracy Steen and Christopher Peterson from Positive Psychology).
Tell us what good advice you have for somebody who needs help recognizing and appreciating what they do have, rather than what they don’t.