In 1991, a study by Thomas Ashby at the Lawrence Erlbaum Association of New Jersey revealed that 96% of Americans critically compare themselves to strangers on a daily basis. It was also revealed that this comparison left 87% feeling less attractive, less successful and less praise-worthy than their unfamiliar counterpart.
If I was an American, I too would be a part of that 96%. How often every day does we find ourselves thinking…
”Jenny is taller than me, but I’m prettier. I wonder if Kelly makes more money than I do. I wonder if she spends it better, too. I wish people listened to me in meetings as they listen to Nicole.”
Comparison and the drive for status and standing are innate to human beings- we are hardwired to judge the people around us, and to judge ourselves against them. Everybody, we meet views the world, and the people within it, by their own internal yardsticks.
The inevitability of our need to compare ourselves and our successes against those of our family, our friends, and our co-workers makes the common advice to the contrary (don’t compare yourself to others, just be happy) completely and utterly useless.
We all do it. We’re all guilty. That isn’t going to change.
It seems that, for the majority of us, the glaring light of someone else’s beauty, intelligence, wealth or aptitude for the business shines a little too brightly on our own perceived shortcomings, and we are powerless to save ourselves from the internal slump.
If this reflex to compare can’t be restrained with a deep breath and a fresh coat of Jungle Red, perhaps we should reconsider. What if instead of fruitlessly attempting to suppress the urge to throw a toddler tantrum or do something rash to ‘close the gap’, we simply rearrange the yardstick?
Revolutionary, I know. But most of us, myself included, are too quick on the trigger to consider that said yardstick might not be cemented into the ground. Think about this simple example…
”Lily and I both have our own businesses, but I don’t make as much money as Lily.”
”Indeed, if you placed Lily and me next to each other on an airplane, in a fancy restaurant or in an expensive nightclub, the difference between us would become obvious very quickly. Lily is in first-class sipping champagne next to a world-class athlete, and I am in the economy, sipping tepid coffee next to a group of the world’s loudest children.”
Oh, there it is…did you feel that?
However, I have wobbled the yardstick and found that it can be moved.
”Lily’s wealthy family gave her a large sum of money to start-up her business. She had everything paid for and handed to her. On the other hand, I started from scratch, and built up my business in true entrepreneurial spirit, with the money I generated myself.”
I sip happily on my luke-warm coffee and smile generously at the squabbling children. Why? Because first-class or not, I have a leg up on Lily.
By measuring my success based on another aspect of our two businesses, I am undoubtedly more successful. Lily may make more money (and in that respect I applaud her) but I earned my comfortable living, no freebies attached and can be proud of my independent venture, however big or small the achievements are.
Society’s metrics are not always beneficial to us. Getting good grades, having excessive money, raising the perfect family etc. They are notable achievements, many of which I myself would love to achieve in the future, but they are NOT absolute.
Money is wonderful, useful and usually makes life more pleasant, but it is not the only measure of success. Followers on twitter are admirable, but they do not necessarily reflect your true popularity.
Many of the more superficial metrics are better considered as tools to achieve a truer wealth, a more whole and well-rounded success. Again, we all choose. And because we are all so different, the metrics we choose will all be different too.
Ask a man in his 30’s, struggling with relationships, or lack thereof, what are his criteria for success. In other words, what are his yardsticks? How many women has he dated? How attractive they were/are? How young they were/are?
(Side note: it is no coincidence that this particular fictional gentleman is struggling in the dating arena)
This is where we bring in what I like to call a Happiness Hypothetical. Our Cassanova is given two options:
- A woman who is gorgeous and the envy of all other women (and men), with an extremely boring personality.
- An average-looking woman who makes him deliriously happy.
While the answer is glaringly obvious to most of us, it may or may not surprise you that some men would struggle terribly with this Happiness Hypothetical. The social metric of having a very attractive wife or girlfriend battles furiously with their own truer yardstick of being genuinely happy underneath his lady’s makeup.
Another, more relevant example:
Would you rather
- Be famous and influential through no achievement of your own
- Be an anonymous cancer cure researcher
- Have lots of toxic relationships but never be alone
- Be alone but be emotionally happy and healthy
Be it relationships, business plans, or indeed sitting in a first-class airport lounge, this tool can be applied to any aspect of our lives. Its power lies in its ability to sieve through the superficial and tell you exactly what matters more to you. You are under no judgment but your own.
If you decided that money was your ultimate goal, no matter how it was attained, you may end up with a set of shaky morals, a large group of irate employees, or even a prison sentence. But, in terms of your own yardstick, you would be a success.
If you decided that your life’s purpose was to watch 12 hours of TV every day, you’d soon find yourself lonely, fat and miserable. But you would be a success.
If you decided that your life’s purpose was to make money but to do it independently, with a clear moral compass and endeavor to make those around your happier and more productive on the way, you would end up exhausted, in desperate need of some leisure time, but you’d be a success.
Do you see? The metrics of success we choose lead to long-term, real-life consequences. They determine everything.
So next time you catch yourself enviously eyeing up a wealthy counterpart half your age with twice the accolades and a body like Beyonce, consider the yardstick and apply a Happiness Hypothetical. Think about the differences between the two of you. Would you rather have a body like Beyonce, or a clean conscience, a wonderful husband, a business you started independently or more experience?
Start judging yourself by what matters to you. It could change everything.
By: Rachel Armitage
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