Thursday, March 24, 2011

Comparing Yourself to Others....

What does the 10th Commandment really mean?

One way humans judge their actions, their worth, and their lives, is by comparing themselves to others.  It is a zero-sum game, as you will always come up short.

One "secret" to being content in life is to establish your own normative cues.  By this, I mean searching inside for your own value system, which may be radically different than what is pushed by "society" in terms of the media and advertising.

If you set a goal for yourself, achieve it, and are content, isn't that all that matters?

But for many folks - for all of us in fact - we are constantly tempted to compare our lives to the lives of others, or at least how the lives of others appear to us, because, let's face it, we all put on quite a show that really isn't what we really are all about.

One reason I left Facebook was because of this.  The "wall postings" end up being a way for people to put "spin" on their lives, as they hype their vacation destinations, meals at exotic restaurants, and other accomplishments in life.  Very rarely do people on Facebook admit to depression, fear, failure, or just hopelessness.

The Bible and the ten commandments talk about this effect, but I think most people miss the point of it.  Many folks read this commandment:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. (Exodus 20:17)
and think it means you shouldn't be jealous of, or think about stealing (coveting) your neighbor's wife or his ass or whatever.  But what I think God or Moses, or whoever wrote this, was trying to say was this:

Don't compare your house to your neighbor's house, don't compare your wife to your neighbor's wife, nor your boat to his boat, your car to his car, or for that matter, anything else you have, to your neighbor's similar possessions - because it is a false comparison. (Book of Bob 20:17)
Why is this?  Because it is shallow thinking at its worst, and sure to make you unhappy, and moreover will distract you from what is really important in life.

If you think your neighbor's wife is "hot" and yours is not, then what does that do to your marriage?  You will just end up thinking you got gypped, when in reality, you have a loving spouse, and of course love is more important than looks, any day.

But the opposite is true also.  It is nothing but vanity to think "Well, my wife is hot and Joe's wife is ugly, I win!"  Is that what your marriage is all about?  If so, I feel sorry for you.

But the main thing is, deciding whether you are "well off" or not, depending on the comparison of your situation to that of others is false logic.  To begin with, there will always be people in a better situation than you, or a worse one.  And yea, we all like to, in our minds, lord over those less fortunate than ourselves, and of course, make sour grapes remarks about people who appear to have it better.

So at the traffic light, you see a poor couple in an old battered "hoop-de" pull up alongside you, burning oil, and you smugly think about how much better you are in your newer car, which only has 36 more payments left to make.

But your smugness is brought up short when a hot babe in a Porsche pulls up along side you and makes both you and the couple in the hoop-de look like white trash.  So you think to yourself, "Well, she has a nice car and a hot body, but I'll bet inside she is really unhappy!" which of course is just sour grapes.

And that may be true.  The couple in the clapped-out car may be deeply in love and very content with life, while the two of you in the newer cars, chasing materialism, may be less content (and there is research to validate this idea, too).

But that is not the point, either.  The point is, you need to be happy with what you have, and not feel superior to others or jealous of others.  If you are happy with your used beige Camry, why not just be happy?  Does it really make you happier to compare your car to the junker driven by one neighbor, or the Porsche driven by another?

Perhaps you all have different value systems - different normative cues, if you will - and thus are happy pursuing different things.  Happiness and material well-being might not be related.

Comparing your life to other's will just result in misery.  Because if you use your neighbor's apparent status as a normative cue, you will end up chasing the neighbor's dreams, not your own.

Worse yet, your neighbor may be chasing all sorts of bad normative cues - going heavily into debt to finance that pretty car in his driveway (which should be in his garage, if he wants to keep it a long time).  When you compare your life to your neighbor, you end up chasing Status, and status-seeking is really a loser's game in the long run.

And yes, I catch myself doing this from time to time and have to say "Stupid Brain!  Shut up!"

I worry, sometimes, that perhaps I should be making more money than I do - or be charging more.  After all, others in my field are making lots and lots of money, right?

But they also live in suburban tract homes, commute 20 miles to work each day, to an overheated office building, and have to deal with office politics and other bullshit like that.  And they work 60 hours a week or more.  Yes, they might make more money - and maybe they like that lifestyle.  But it is not for me, and comparing my life to theirs is a false comparison.  I don't want what they want.

And no doubt they would not think my life was not to their liking.  After all, we don't even have a Starbucks!

So give up on the idea of establishing your own self-worth based on the apparent success of others.  Yes, it is very, very hard to do, I know.  But the more you can think for yourself, decide what makes you happy, and then pursue those goals instead, the happier you will be.

Yes, this is another one of those rambling postings that came to me in a dream last night.  Stupid cold pills!

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