Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Not Fair

I think we've just about wrapped up Savoring The Present/Everyday Moments on the Happiness Project list. Which means it's time to move on to item number two:

2. Avoid Comparisons

If there is anything in this world that will make you feel worse about yourself, it's comparison. There's a bifurcation to this point:

a.) You feel inferior. Which sucks.
b.) You feel superior. But this superiority comes with a price.

If you look around, or even if you just sit still and watch the world pass by, you can find plenty of both. I think it was in graduate school that the Rules of Life first began to actually sink in, and one of the first I learned was this: of every room you will ever walk into in your life, there will always be someone smarter than you, someone prettier, someone kinder, or someone who in some way seems vastly superior to you. It may not be overt. It may be far more subtle, but the fact remains that however smart/pretty/kind/amazing you think you are, you will always be able to find someone who's got you bushed in some department.

It's a pretty hard lesson to learn, but an excellent perspective to have in your arsenal.

God help you if you are an ugly girl, Ani DiFranco wrote; 'Course too pretty is also your doom / Because everyone harbors a secret hatred / For the prettiest girl in the room.

You can't win.

Comparisons lead you nowhere. Sure, that girl might have a tighter stomach, bigger boobs, better boots, and a boyfriend who is hopelessly devoted. So what? You think her life is any bit easier than yours? You think she doesn't fight the same battles, face the same daunting things that are out there to make life difficult?

It's one of our worst habits, this comparison. This idea of equality and justice has somehow bred in us the idea that we're all deserving of some overly large slice of some pie. (And yet we supposedly take pride in individualism and uniqueness. The paradoxes of this society are baffling.)

A more slippery slope is the idea that you are somehow superior to someone. Unless they have proved themselves to be nasty, bitter, angry or cruel, chances are you've got nothing on them. So what if you're thinner, or you volunteer more, or you know the value of keeping a secret? You can't possibly know all the intricacies of someone's heart, and you cannot ever get ahead in this world by thinking you're better than others. Because the moment you do- I promise you- you will fall from that little self-built pedestal. Thinking you're better then someone is ten times worse than thinking you're less. It's a dangerous position of self-inflicted power, and this overblown sense of ego is the source of (I would wager) close to 90% of the problems in the world.

But comparisons don't always have to come in this fashion. Sometimes comparisons are more subtle. For years, I watched as things happened for my friend. Jobs, raises, relationships, new houses, accolades....I watched and I felt myself becoming angry that these things didn't happen for me. I couldn't understand why everyone around me seemed to be just GETTING and GETTING and GETTING and why my life was so stuck and why I myself was floundering so very badly.

The thing was, I spent so much time comparing myself to these people that I neglected to see the hard work they put into these milestones and moments of happiness. I thought they were things that just happened, not things that were worked for.

And the second I realized that was the moment I regretted all those wasted years of wondering why happiness seemed to come so easily to other people and not to me. I could have spent that time, you know, being happy. Working towards my own goals instead of waiting for someone else's happiness to light up my life.

"Life's not fair," my parents used to chorus. It's not.

But this whole comparison thing can really start to get you down when you look at it from the perspective of a middle class white girl with above-average education, good health, and straight teeth. Go ahead....start comparing. Go down that road. Point out all the things that are wrong with you, and then turn around and look at the other 90% of the world's population that are struggling with addictions, bad health, limited choices, no access to good education, no family model to follow, no friends, no hope, maybe not even clean water or readily-accessible food and shelter. Go ahead and bemoan the fact that some people don't ever seem to have to work for their wealth or their health, and then turn around and realize how good you've got it. Makes you feel...for lack of a better term....schmucky.

Avoid comparisons. You have no way of knowing the complex issues of someone else's life, and you are only responsible for your own. Taking charge of your own behavior and understanding that whatever may come as a consequence is yours and yours alone to deal with doesn't leave too much time for comparison.

I will admit, it's something of a human condition though, isn't it? Sometimes it's impossible not to compare. All around us are people who are more disciplined, who seem to make better choices; people to whom happiness just seems to gravitate.

But comparisons breed room for resentment.

And comparisons also drain us of gratitude for what we do possess. Whether it's a unique character trait or a flaw that, twisted in the right way, becomes an asset; or a gift or a goal achieved or hard work that eventually pays off or a random stroke of luck that lands some golden little slice of life right into our laps. If you're so busy wondering why your neighbor has such a magical life, you're not really taking part in your own life, are you?

Life isn't fair. But before you think you've got the short end of the stick, look again.

Although....I do have to say here that people with naturally high metabolisms should just all congregate amongst themselves. I mean, honestly. Or at least refrain from mentioning it in public. Can I get some support on this one?

I digress.

Don't compare yourself to others. Because it's bad.

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