Perhaps the most common of emotions, it seems to be built into our human brains. There is always someone richer, better looking, more loved, or somehow better off than we find ourselves.
I’ve noticed that some folks are more prone to these types of comparisons than others. While some more narcissistic people tend to find themselves on top of their comparisons, most of us who compare experience the opposite. We typically find ourselves sadly coming up short.
If you’re a frequent comparer, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Because current research shows that some of the things we value most in today’s world are not actually the things that make us happy, healthy or content in our lives.
Here are three recent psychological studies which offer some surprising things to be thankful for. They may make you re-think some of the comparisons you dwell upon, and turn them topsy-turvy.
1. You don’t have the biggest house or the best car in your neighborhood.
Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003 conducted a fascinating study on what makes people happy: material possessions or rewarding experiences.
They gave two groups of students different instructions. Group 1 was asked to write a brief description of something they had purchased in the last year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like electronics, vehicles, clothing, etc.
Group 2 was asked to write a brief description of something they had experienced in the past year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like trips, meals out, concerts and such.
Each group was then asked to reflect on what they had just written, and to rate how happy they felt as they were thinking about the purchased possession or rewarding experience.
These researchers found that the subjects felt significantly better when they contemplated the past experience than they did when reflecting on the purchase.
They concluded that possessions may make you feel happy at the moment of purchase, but they don’t feed your overall happiness the way a fun and memorable experience does.
2. You’re not gorgeous
Although being highly attractive does offer certain clear advantages when dealing with the opposite sex, many studies have shown that being beautiful gives people a tremendous disadvantage when dealing with someone of the same sex.
For instance, Agthe et al., 2011 found that when beautiful people are being interviewed for a job by a person of the same sex, they are more likely to be experienced as threatening. This puts the beautiful person at a disadvantage for being hired.
Anderson and Nida (1978) found that those of the same sex are likely to judge the beautiful as less talented than someone of average attractiveness.
Krebs and Adinolfi, (1978) showed that although we think of attractive people as more socially popular, they are actually more likely to be socially rejected by people of the same gender.
3. You are / were not your mother’s favored child.
Suitor et al., 2015 surveyed 725 grown children from 309 families. They found that the child identified as the mother’s favorite in the family was more likely to be depressed than the other adult children. These favored children reported more depressive symptoms, and experienced more tension with their adult siblings. They also felt more burdened by the emotional needs of their aging mother.
Next time you find yourself coming up short in a comparison, try to pull yourself back to look at the big picture.
After all, you’ll always be able to find someone who has more than you or seems better than you (everyone can).
And you don’t need to be favored, rich or beautiful to be happy.
True and lasting happiness arises from holding your own values and feelings close to your heart. And your own memories, experiences and relationships in your own high esteem.
No one, and I mean no one can take those away from you.