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If you are able to buy bread, does this make you happy? For many people it doesn’t in the Western world it doesn’t. We can buy bread every day, it very cheap to us. However, for some people who are short on money it would be wonderful to buy bread. So actually, you should feel good when buying bread. Now imagine the thing you want to have, but is impossible to get. Is it something expensive, someone out of your league, your ex who broke up with you? By the thought of never achieving this beautiful thing we get unhappy. In this blog I will try to tell you something about your mind, and hand out technique’s that can make you happy/happier, even feel more successful, or in less pain. Nevertheless, don’t assume that your challenge is a quick fix, you have to work on it yourself. I won’t pretend to solve your problem immediately. But here it goes.
The first thing you need to know is that happiness, success, and all emotions are about making comparisons. You have to compare the one thing to another to experience something. For example; you can only experience richness, if others are poorer. You can be happy if you haven’t felt happy before. If everyone is equal, no one is special. Thus, you have a focus and a comparison point. The focus is the thing you look at, the comparison point is the thing you compare it with. For this blog we will keep the focus on ourselves, on the current state you. For example, I am poor (focus) compared to a billionaire (comparison point). I am rich (focus) compared to a homeless person (comparison point). Shifting your comparison point consciously can be a powerful tool to become truly happy, successful, and satisfied. However, there are several key important things to think about when shifting your comparison point, which I will describe below. Shifting your focus itself (like on money/meaning/beauty) can also be powerful but this is not the purpose of this blog. Read this blog about one of my own experiments about focus.
- The current state of you (your focus)
- Comparison point
The problem with our comparison point
We all want things we can’t have. At least, not quickly. We compare ourselves often with the things that are way above us. A successful career, a lot of money, a happy family, a big house, etc. When you are sad you are not rich yet, you are comparing yourself with rich people. We compare ourselves with the absurd beautiful and rich people who overwhelm us in the magazines, on the internet, and on the billboards in the streets. The other (less worse) mistake we make is that we compare our current self with someone we want to be in the far future. This happens when we think about how rich we are over 20 years, and what kind of supercar you will drive. Although, this future self view can be a little motivating, the gap between your current you, and your far future self is often very large. I will come back to this issue later on.
Our automatic response to our unhealthy comparison point
If you compare yourself with a successful person, you become unhappy. Our automatic response is to change ourselves. If we want to become successful, we need work harder. It is not strange that changing ourselves is our first response, because we are easy to change. There are plenty opportunities to work harder and to become successful. This is what is encouraged by the media, the school, and the government: change yourself to become successful. It is not encouraged to change the comparison point itself. Nevertheless, by avoiding media with the beautiful and successful people, and through conscious attention you can change it.
Once you can consciously control your comparison point, you’ll find happiness
What you can do, is to shift your comparison point. If you constantly compare yourself with people who are way more successful than you, like Elon Musk, Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence, or another superstar, you are going to have a bad time. If you try to become someone who is far out of your league, you will never be satisfied with who you become. You will always keep working, while never being satisfied. If you have you compare yourself with someone who is more close to you, your goal becomes much more achievable. However, our next challenge is that our comparison point will shift as well when you reach your goal. For example, suppose you want to become like your (local) popstar who sings in the local bar every Saturday. You are trying hard to become like that local popstar, but in the meantime your local popstar has a major breakthrough and becomes famous nationally. And thus, her spot is free at the bar, and the bar asks you to sing every Saturday. You reach your goal! But the sad thing is, that you’ll have the urge to breakthrough nationally as well. “Because she could do that as well”. You will always be chasing the success of your role-model what makes your chase an infinite journey. And if your role-model fails, you will find another successful one. Therefore, focusing on superstars and role-models as comparisons might not be such a good a idea.
Try to become who you are now
Monks try to live in the here and now. By doing this, I believe that monks are shifting comparison point towards themselves. They want to become who they are right now. It is a very easy and effortless job to become who you are now. Just try it yourself now; imagine you are in a blank empty universe and there is no one else to compare with. Then you aren’t ugly are you? If you can do this perfectly, then focus and reference point are at the exact same point. This can make you very satisfied about your appearance, you are okay! Nonetheless, it is very hard to do this for us. Mainly because our society, and our minds are mostly focused on comparing ourselves with others, we are social animals. I think that is one of the reasons why monks are locking themselves in their temples to avoid the comparisons with other people. If you have nothing to compare yourself with. Then everything about you is good.
Compare with the below
When I was younger I fancied to snack once in a while and said to my mom at 2 pm: “Mom, I’m hungry!”. Then, she often replied; “You aren’t hungry, children in Africa are hungry”. My mom tried to shift my comparison-point to a lower level (the African Children who are worse of than I was) to make me less hungry. I usually kept my mouth shut after her response, but I don’t think that technique is a good one. Although, you can consciously compare yourself with lower levels of people to make yourself happy, I think this is unhealthy to do. I will explain why in the next paragraph.
Compare with yourself
Comparing yourself with others is not fair. The situation of other people is completely different. This accounts for both poor- and wealthy people. They are often born in different systems and they are different people. Even the people close to you, like your brothers and sisters are born differently and might had more luck than you. Stop comparing yourself with people who grew up wealthy, beautiful, and smart! And even stop focusing on people close to you. I think it is only healthy to compare yourself with you. Therefore, you should only compare your current situation with (near) future- or (near) past states of you. From which situation did you came from? Where do you want to go? Nevertheless, don’t look to far ahead, and don’t look to far back; tighten the gap of comparison.
Tighten the gap of comparison
I have Quantified Self data from my daily happiness over the past four years. I always struggle which data I should to compare my current happiness. I try to avoid data that is very old. Mainly because data from four years is a long time ago, I’m not that person anymore. I have changed, and people around me have changed. Therefore, you shouldn’t pin your comparison point to far in the past. If you still think a lot about things that happened 10 years ago it isn’t healthy. Whenever you feel like comparing yourself with very old versions of you, just try to consciously stop that, and think about “you from a few weeks back”, have you grown since then? It’s much better to use little distances as your comparison point. Also, take small gaps regarding the future. Mainly, because external circumstances/parties can have a significant impact on your future which my distort your dreams. Using small gaps will motivate you to grow little by little. And you can adapt if necessary.
Feeling good is not always good
If you are manage to control your comparison point consciously and you feel good about yourself, that doesn’t necessarily mean that are healthy or will stay happy forever. Suppose, you are heavily overweight but you only compare yourself to peers who are more heavily overweight than you. You will feel good about yourself but you won’t be healthy. You still have risks on several diseases. The trick in this blog is about “feeling good about yourself” and not become more healthy, richer, or prettier. This is an important distinction.
The most important thing is to focus on yourself and to be able to shift your comparison point consciously. It is a very easy advice but this goes wrong all the time. You can consciously shift your comparison point over and over. I know that this might be hard to do, but if you give it consciously attention, it will get easier. If your past sucked, focus on the now. If now sucks, focus on the future. If your future is limited (if death awaits), treasure the past. Find a comparison that suits you most. But if it comes to feeling better about yourself, focus on yourself and keep the gap of comparison as small as possible. Good luck!
Some cheesy inspirational quotes that are based on this topic:
- You can hit me, you can break me, you can kill me. But you can never kill my past. I experienced the beauty of life.
- My past was awful, but today is a new day, I’m here. I’m living.
- I’m not sure if there is a future, but all I know is that I am breathing now. And as long as I breathe, I continue forever.
- You can hit me, but when you stop, the pain stops. You will become tired. I will recover. What is your goal?