I think it is great that there is such a focus on happiness in the West now, but it sometimes feels like all that competition that went into being richer than others is now going into looking like you are having a better time than others. People use Facebook to express their gratitude for the wonderful holiday they are having in St Lucia (#sograteful) or for their gorgeous husband buying them flowers (#solucky), and it makes the rest of us (well, me at least) feel like our lives are a bit inadequate.
I’ve been thinking about why some posts make me feel inadequate, whilst others leave me uplifted. I think the posts that stir up inadequacy or competition are those about experiences or relationships I don’t have and would like to have. I don’t think it is the intent of the poster to make me feel bad. But if I compare my life to the top things that are happening in my friends’ lives, it’s hard not to come up short. This blog explains it perfectly.
Appreciating what you have and feeling grateful and lucky is wonderful (see my last post). I’m strongly in favour. So much so that I am creating an app to help people do more of it! But because posting what we are grateful for has the potential to create a competitive mindset, I’m coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t add a sharing option to the app. This is despite the fact I’m a member of a great Gratitude Facebook group where people post positive and uplifting things they are grateful for everyday. Any thoughts on this appreciated…I’m still conflicted about what to do.
Being competitive about happiness not completely ridiculous – there can be a little boost from feeling like you are doing better than everyone else. We are social animals, and we measure ourselves against the pack. That is why as we get richer as a society, the amount of money we feel we need increases too – our benchmark rises. But ultimately it is ridiculous as this wonderful spoof in The Onion gently points out.
Being competitive about happiness is a recipe for misery. For a start, it means you don’t truly wish others well, because you want them to be less happy than you are. That creates distance between you and your friends. Connection is one of the keys to happiness so anything that creates distance is bad news.
It also makes it harder to be happy in a more direct way. If I’m doing the Three Good Things exercise and can’t come up with a third, I start thinking about good things that have happened to those I care about. By valuing the happiness of others, I take the pressure off everything going right in my own life. And that makes me happier.
Now I’m off to St Lucia on a surprise trip organised by my gorgeous husband. Oh wait, not I’m not. But I will have a delicious dinner, a warm bath and a comfy bed – common luxuries, but luxuries all the same.