Everyone wants to be happy. In 2011, 33% of Americans claimed to be happy, a drop of 2% from 2008. That means 66%, or most people, aren’t happy. And I know why.
I’m a people-watcher. I could do it all day, every day. My favorite part of vacations is going somewhere new to watch people who look different from people I see regularly. Walking through Midtown Manhattan with sunglasses on is one of my greatest joys. I even people watch while driving.
Last week, I was driving on the highway when I saw an amazing car. It was a Mercedes 4 door AMG that was completely matte. And it was being driven by 4 gorgeous women that could not possibly have been over the age of 19, all holding Starbucks cups. They looked like they had just left a Abercrombie shoot.
In that moment, I was instantly annoyed.
Here was my thought process, in the order that my brain produced those thoughts.
1. These women could clearly not afford this car.
2. Someone must have a rich father.
3. They were probably going to coast through life on their looks.
4. They all are probably at school for something that wouldn’t provide them a real skill.
5. They all probably had way more Instagram followers than me, simply because they were attractive, female, and in possession of this car.
6. My own car may not be a luxury vehicle, but at least I have something I worked hard for.
I knew it was ridiculous to compare myself to these women. I’m positive they hadn’t given me a second thought. But, in my own head, I needed to prove to myself why I was better than they were.
Here’s the problem with that. It’s unnecessary. Why compare myself to someone else? We all have different circumstances, opportunities, and situations.
Dan Ariely, in his book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions”, talks a lot about how comparisons make our lives easier. For instance, to find out if I liked a movie I just watched, I compare it with other movies I’ve seen recently, especially from the same genre. I think about how I felt after having left “Captain America” with how I felt after leaving “Hercules”. But Dan Ariely says specifically that “jealousy and envy come from comparing our lot in life with others”. He goes on to point out that by our very nature, we are wired to compare ourselves with others.
There was an American journalist and editor named H. L. Mencken. who is quoted as saying, “a man’s satisfaction with his salary depends on whether he makes more than his wife’s sister’s husband.” Why? No doubt because Mencken’s wife could easily compare notes with her sister regarding their mates’ earnings.
Want to be happier? Do these things.
1. When you see people who have more than you, recognize that you’re going to have negative thoughts.
2. Instead of going through the process of those negative thoughts, think about the choices you’ve made in life and what you have.
3. Think about those choices carefully. Do you regret any of them?
4. Remind yourself that those choices have made you who you are.
5. Tell yourself that you’re happy with who you are, regardless of what anyone else has.
In the beginning, this process will feel cumbersome, awkward and a little silly. After a little while though, you won’t even notice that you’re doing it. Until you stop. And your brain starts producing those thoughts again. But now you’ll know what to do next.