Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

4 Ways to Get Off the Misery Train

Have you ever experienced a time when you were perfectly content with your life? A time when you had a sense of wholeness about your home, job, relationships, financial situation and everything else. No, things were not perfect, but they were sufficient and alright.

Then something happened.

You went online and saw a really cool house on Pinterest you wished your’s looked like. You talked to a friend you hadn’t connected with in a while. She got a promotion, and you realized you deserved a promotion. You saw a commercial and realized how much static cling your clothes had. These things made you realized just how much your life sucked. Whatever term you affix to it–jealousy, envy, keeping up with the Joneses–few things have the capacity to rob us of satisfaction like comparing ourselves to others (also known as “social comparison”).

The phenomena works like this: we take a comprehensive understanding of our own lives (personal struggles, financial woes, etc.); we hold that up against a superficial understanding of our others’ lives (pictures, tabloids, interviews); we realize how little we have, how hard our lives are, how fat we are and so on.

Social comparisons affect both our emotional and material sense of satisfaction. We compare our emotional trials and tribulations to the self-evident ease of living others enjoy–our evidence typically being derived from pictures, People Magazine articles, Facebook status updates and the like. In fact, one study about the effects of Facebook found that “passive following [i.e. not contributing content] exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction.” (It should be noted that people who actively engage on Facebook, contributing content and posting on friends’ walls reported greater life satisfaction).

And nothing reminds us of our material deficiencies like brief glances at the abundance of others. We never realized how crappy our iPhone 3S was until the iPhone 5 arrived. We never realized we needed three car garages until our neighbors had one. We never realized how ill-fitting our jeans were until Miley Bieberlake showed up at the AMAs with a perfectly fitting pair.

In all cases, trouble originated from comparing our internal wellbeing and satisfaction of needs to another’s external circumstances. Few strategies are as effective as this one for making us consistently miserable.

There are things we can do:

  1. Determine what’s important to you and live accordingly. If you need a three car garage or faster phone or bigger home, get them. But if those desires are the products of comparative deficiency–i.e. we want them because someone else has them, and we perceive them to be happier because they have those things–we will forever be on the losing team. We will be chasing the next best thing, aka the “hedonic treadmill.”
  2. Get real. Nothing dispels romantic notions about how easy people have it, or how satisfied they are, like getting to know people. We’re all fighting our own battles. No car, house, amount of money, etc has ever made anyone happy. Sure, these things might get us from place to place, they might house us and pay for certain things, but they don’t make us happy. The guy or gal with the fastest car, biggest house and largest bank account is–nine times out of ten–dealing with the same boring problems you are (though it might look a little different).
  3. Shield yourself. If you know you tend to get envious looking at certain websites, magazines, TV shows or even talking to certain friends, don’t engage in those things. This is not the bliss of ignorance–it’s selective attention; it’s choosing to focus on the fullness of one’s own life rather than the supposed grandeur of others.
  4. Practice gratitude. Place focus on what you do have and what does work in your life. Nothing fends off of comparative despairing like rejoicing in our own good fortune.

Three Car Garage image via Shutterstock