Less Comparing, More Happiness
I’m generally a competitive person.
Maybe it’s because I grew up with brothers. Whether I’m playing a sport, a board game, or debating a topic, I really like to “win.” As I’ve gotten older I’ve calmed down some, and I know how to be a gracious loser, but I would still consider myself a competitive person. This personality trait has had its benefits at times, such as getting straight As through college and graduate school, but I wouldn’t consider this my most attractive quality.
However, this post is meant to discuss a different type of competition. Not the sports or board game flare ups that most people deal with but an inner comparison-style competition. This type of competition brings out the worst in people, because they compare themselves to the detriment of their own self-esteem or the destruction of another’s self-esteem.
Think about the movie the “Prestige” in which two talented magicians battle over dominance and fame. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for either man. Neither magician finds true happiness in their pursuit.
Being the “best” doesn’t always mean being the happiest.
(I think Hollywood’s rates of drug abuse, crime, and divorce make that point for me.) In our striving to be the prettiest or the smartest or the funniest person in the room, we compare ourselves to others. Usually we compare our worst to someone’s best, which tends to yield sadness. Taken to the extreme, depression can set in because we fear we will continually fail to be good enough. We’ll never be the best, so why try? Unfortunately resentment also grows as we become angrier at the people who seem to have it all. On the other hand, comparing ourselves to others can also grow a narcissistic pride. Neither such a hurtful pride nor depression are healthy consequences for relationships or self-esteem.
Competition yields a fragile happiness.
I wonder what would happen if we removed the “est” adjective from our speech.
Instead of telling your child she is the prettiest girl in the room, what would happen if you simply praised her own qualities? Tell her she looks beautiful.
Instead of telling your child he is the smartest boy in his class, congratulate his grades and his hard work in achieving such stellar marks.
The compliment is still given, and the praise is still genuine, but the language doesn’t promote comparison to others. No one else’s child is deemed insufficient or less than your child. How much more love and compassion for others would grow as a result? For more tips on using language to boost your child’s self esteem, read the post here.
I don’t write this post because of some traumatic experience in my youth. I was never bullied or shamed growing up. I write this post because lately I am becoming more aware of the dangers of promoting needless competition. Like I said earlier, I am a competitive person when it comes to games and sports. Sometimes I can be competitive in “being right” when it comes to opinions and politics, although I’m trying to moderate those tendencies.
It is when competition means you struggle to be kind to others that competition becomes hurtful.
Constantly comparing yourself to others will only grow your own insecurity and damage relationships. Placing your happiness in the hands of the “est” words (prettiest, smartest, best) means your happiness is temporary and dependent on out-doing others.
As adults, we can work to improve our feelings of esteem so we don’t needlessly compare ourselves to others. Then we can teach our children to develop a healthy self-esteem as well. We can teach them that happiness isn’t always the result of being the best, but a feeling of inner security and contentment with our efforts. See another post on the idea of encouraging kindness here.