If you compare your life to other people’s lives, how does it make you feel? Writer and Happinez Festival speaker Andrea Owen used to do it all the time, and she usually thought other people were much smarter / better / prettier. Until she looked at it differently.
Friend A has a fantastic job. After she graduated, she made a great career for herself. While your job, well, let’s just say it pays the bills. Your colleagues are nice and everything, but you don’t feel you challenge yourself as much as you should.
Friend B has a great, loving relationship with his partner, they have been together for fifteen years now. How do they do it? After your last serious relationship, you only had a couple of flings. Guess you’re not really a catch.
And friend C. She has a busy life with three children, races from piano class to hockey training to ballet class, always cheerful as ever – while you, without any kids, crash in front of the TV every night feeling exhausted.
Recognize this train of thought? Then you’re probably good at it, too: comparing yourself to others. Everybody does it. It’s almost impossible not to, Andrea Owen says in her book How To Stop Feeling Like Shit – 14 Habits That Are Holding You Back From Happiness. But it is possible to change how it makes you feel.
For some reason, comparing yourself to others often makes the other person seem ‘better’. Right? It’s like other people have better lives, better bodies, better homes, better relationships. And even if they don’t – and you feel like yours is better – this isn’t the best way of increasing your self-esteem. Because if your sense of self is dependent on how other people do it, life will always be a competition: in order to be happy about yourself, you have to do better than others. Tiresome, isn’t it?
Modesty is highly appreciated in our culture. Pride, not so much: it’s associated with bragging and arrogance. That’s why feeling proud isn’t always easy. You may tend to punish yourself for it (‘don’t think you’re all that’, ‘others are much better at this). A real shame.
To train your pride, make a list of everything you’ve achieved in your life. Don’t just put your diplomas on it, or the jobs you’ve had, but also the skills you’ve developed (from typing with ten fingers to beautifully painting a wall, and from telling great stories to really listening to someone). And don’t forget about all the things that scared you, but you did them anyway: jumping off the highest diving board, giving a presentation, applying for that dream job). Finished the list? Now it’s time to applaud yourself for it. Or, as Andrea puts it: ‘Allow yourself to wallow in fulfillment about everything you’ve achieved.’
There are probably things you do because they inspire you. Like following fitgirls on Instagram, like Andrea did for a long time. Or hanging out with a colleague you look up to – because you want to make a promotion, like she did twice, and because she stands up for herself. But do they truly inspire you? Take a good look at your sources of inspiration, and think about whether they motivate you or get you down. If someone makes you feel small, or like you’re a failure, they’re not a good source of inspiration. It’s better to find people who actually make you feel good about yourself and inspire you to challenge yourself more.
Knowing your habits is one thing, changing them into something positive is another. At the Happinez Festival, Andrea Owen explains how to do it. She tells all about it in a personal manner, with empathy and mild self-irony.
Text: Dorien Vrieling – Photo: Zoe Deal
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