The True Reason for Unhappiness
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I’m currently finishing up my second to last semester in grad school (yay!) and one of my classes this fall was scheduled to be taught by a teacher that everyone in our program dreads having. Two days before our first scheduled class, the professor got changed to someone that no one had heard of; lets call him Dr. H. Turns out Dr. H. is the new dean of the school. I was pretty excited because I knew that as the dean he would probably be a good teacher and would have a lot of experience in public policy.
Multiple times throughout the semester, Dr. H has made it a point to squeeze in little life lessons in between talk of Syrian foreign policy and health care reform. One night in class Dr. H asked us what we thought the true root of unhappiness is. My best guess was ‘money’ while others answered ‘self-centeredness’, ‘desires’, and one wise guy in the back of the room offered ‘marriage’ as the true reason for unhappiness.
The number one reason that people are unhappy, Dr. H says, is because they constantly compare themselves to others. This was mentioned at the beginning of the semester and has really stuck with me over the past few months.
I find this especially true in my life. While I by no means got everything I wanted, I grew up in a very privileged household. My parents (my mother especially) did everything in their power to make sure that my brother and I had everything we needed to be successful in life. But, no matter how much I had, there was always someone who had more. I’ve spent my life trying to get away from those illustrious people with more. But, they weren’t the problem…I was. I really feel like there’s no need for me to go into this much more because I know you’ve all probably experienced it at some point in your life.
As of recently, as I am a mere 3 months into blogging (and only 1 month of being serious about it), I find myself constantly comparing myself and my blog to others. Not the blogs so much, I guess, as the people themselves. I’ve run across some truly beautiful people (inside and out) in the blogosphere but in the end I find myself saying “why can’t I go to fancy parties like that all the time?” or “I wish my legs looked like that!”.
And let me tell you, I can so intensely feel those thoughts of comparison creeping into me and truly stealing my joy. But what’s more is that I most often do not realize that it is happening. I think this is where it really gets dangerous. You start to tell yourself that there’s something wrong with you. There is in some way something wrong with your life that you don’t have as successful of a career or as (seemingly) happy of a relationship. But in reality, you’re projecting negative emotions and thoughts where they simply don’t belong.
For me, I’ve found that social media can often make this all worse. Let me tell you, EVERY time I see someone post a picture of a baby on facebook, I wonder if something is wrong with me that I don’t want kids right now. (I feel like everyone I know is popping out babies at the moment!) But, that’s just not where I am in my life and THAT’S OKAY!!
So, being conscious of this sneaky little bearer of unhappiness is the first key to overcoming it. One thing I learned a few years back is that you cannot, no matter how hard you try, deny that you are feeling something. What you can do, however, is learn to turn those unwanted thoughts and feelings into something positive. Here are a few things that I have been trying lately to overcome my constant urge to compare myself to others:
1) Be gracious. I think that this has helped me more than anything else. While I’m not exactly where I want to be in my career and I constantly worry about getting my student debt paid off as quickly as possible, I have SO much to be grateful for right now. I am very blessed in my life and I need to be more gracious for that.
2) Don’t take life too seriously. I’m going to be completely honest with you, probably the main way that I get in trouble with all of this is by comparing my looks and body to other women. I know, it’s the tale as old as time, but I’m guilty of it. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I’ve spent stressing because I wasn’t skinnier. It’s sad, but so true. And it’s ridiculous!! This is where I try not to take myself too seriously because you know what, I’m very healthy. I eat my fruits and veggies and have always been very active. Seriously, whenever you start to fret by comparing yourself to someone else, just take a step back and laugh at how ridiculous you are being.
3) Recognize your own successes and continue to strive for more. I feel confident that every single one of you reading this has been successful in many ways. Recognize that and be proud of it. I’ll go back to the career thing here: while there are a couple of promotions I wish I had received, I’m still very proud of where I am right now in my current position. I have learned so much and met so many amazing people. Even more, I have worked very hard. I take more pride in that hard work than I do in anything else.
And while I’m happy where I am, I continue to strive for more. I live by the motto that you should always be working at ways to improve yourself. Always. If photography, for example, is something that you want to be better at, then be better at it. Read everything you can about lighting and editing. Talk to other people about how you can improve and make your photos even better. (I was a philosophy major in college so I had to throw this one in there) :)
4) Be inspired. Rather than looking at others with envy and comparing yourself to them, look at them as an inspiration. As I mentioned early, I’ve met some truly beautiful people in my life and every single person had something in them that I was able to make inspiration out of.
Are you still reading? Wow. I didn’t mean to type that much but truth be told, I could keep going. I hope that this little tid bit of wisdom from Dr. H is an inspiration to even just one person out there. Stop comparing yourself to others and just live your life.