How unhappy we are at times when we compare ourselves and our lives with others. “Miserere, how I wish I had your life, money, car, wife, etc. ”
Sometimes this can be something positive, if it forces us to get our act together and actually work (not just yearn) for that which we want. A kick in the butt. As when Rubinstein heard Horowitz play and realized he needed to practise more .-)
But what is a comparison? Putting two things beside each other, looking at them and measuring the differences. You can compare two apples in front of you but not one apple here and another in a different continent. You cannot compare an apple and an Apple computer. That´s unscientific.
But it gets worse. When we compare our lives with other people´s lives we can get into really muddy zones. A classic, modern example is the Facebook comparison.
Let´s look more closely at the FB-apples.
One apple is my life. I know quite a bit about it, if I open my eyes really wide I can know quite a lot about it.
The other apple is your life. I see it, if seeing it can be called, through the FB-lens. Which is also a filter, and a crop tool, plus all the other Photoshop tools.
With a photo I need some kind of original, but frankly there is no need for that on Facebook. Everything can be made up. Name, profile picture, history, occupation, every status message can be downright fake. So how the hell can I compare my apple with yours?
That is an extreme case and we don´t need to go that far.
But even so, that other apple — your life, or what I see, or think/imagine, as your life — is probably cropped, censured, sanitized and beautified. You show what you want to show, other parts are concealed or never mentioned. Some things you enlarge and exaggerate, others you reduce or depreciate.
And yes, some parts you or I might even make up. That picture of your stylish dinner might be your third cousin´s dinner, and my login at Sheraton Dubai, well, let´s not look too closely into that.
But the pictures sure look nice, and it could have all been true (in an other, better world)…. Yes! Why not better this dull, imperfect world sometimes? And what better tool for that than Facebook?
Back to our science and apples. But also to some comfort and consolation (things science seldom gives us).
If you find yourselves being depressed when you compare your life with the life of somebody else, ask yourself if this is a comparison or a phantasy.
Sorry, I don´t want to involve YOU in all this grit. If I find myself being depressed when I compare myself with someone else, I can ask myself if this is a comparison, or just a fantasy.
Are the two apples both visible to me, in front of me? When did I last meet or talk with this other “apple”, more than over a short lunch? What and how much do I actually know, and what do I believe, assume and surmise?
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
If the answer to those questions is “what I KNOW is very little” then I am not comparing, but only indulging in a fantasy.
Why we, you and I, do that is another question. The enjoyment of complaining and self-pity sometimes seems to be a universal or at least global force. Masochism takes many interesting and “intellectual” forms. And so on.
Knowing why might not help much. Seeing the what — that I don´t compare but just indulge a fantasy — can hopefully disperse the clouds of confusion, at least a bit.
Coda: When I see that I don´t compare but making things up, I might get a glimpse of the real values of my life, as it is here and know. And doing that I might totally forget to “compare” (fantasize) and actually live in the present.
And seeing that there is no real ground for comparison, even the desire to compare might go up in smoke and evaporate.