I spent the morning shopping with my mother and sister in law. I stay out of shops, because in an effort to reach our long term goals we are on a strict budget. Meanwhile, my sister in law places no such limitations on herself. I try not to shop with her because I always spend more than I planned. It was difficult to walk out with nothing. I have money in the bank I could drop on things we don’t really need, but that I want.
“The more we have the more we want.” from Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely,
Why is some people are happy with their lot in life? While other people, people we consider much more “well-off” than us are so unhappy?
Life is often a decision making ordeal. We have to decide which soap is better, which entree is better, which route to take.
We are wired to compare. We are really good at comparing ourselves. We compare ourselves to our peers. We compare ourselves to our siblings. We compare ourselves to our parents. And we want to come out on top.
Ariely has a little story about family practice doctors who compare themselves to surgical or Wall-Street consulting “peers”, who make considerably more money then the family practitioners. Or the wife who compares her husband’s salary to her sister’s husband’s salary. You know someone is going home from that unhappy.
It is why we love to watch rich people who have severely dysfunctional lives. We can look at them and say “They have money, but at least my family enjoys my company and my children will grow up knowing the value of a dollar.”
How do we stop from comparing to others and making ourselves unhappy in the process?
Decide what is important in your life.
Sure buying the salamander wall art I saw would really great on my wall. But it really isn’t going to further my other life goals. In a few weeks, I would barely notice it any longer on my wall.
Change who you are comparing with
Sure those doctors arent’ making as much as their doctor peers. But they are making more money then the rest of us.
Change the point of comparison
All choices are trade offs. A woman compares her husband’s salary to another’s, and finds he could be making a lot more money. Except his work hours would increase from 40 to 55 per week. Is the extra money that important that she’d give up 15 hours per week with her husband? Maybe not.
Let go of comparing all together
All choices have trade offs. For instance, if you are comparing your child to a friend’s child of a different age, you are going to find a differences, and places where your child just isn’t at the same level. Does it matter? Your child can’t draw as well or didn’t get the lead in the school play, but she excels at the piano and she is reading above her grade level. And they are both happy children who have parents that love them. Which is the most important part of a child’s life?
Being mindful and grateful for what you do have puts great perspective on your life.