We all want to live a good life; we want to do well and find fulfillment. The problem, however, is that we often don’t know what a good life is or how to evaluate our own life and progress. Even if we do have an idea of what might make our life good, of what counts as a good life, it is easy to find ourselves doubting whether our own conception is right or whether it is right for us.
(See my related article, Creating Opportunities)
We tend to look outside and compare ourselves to others in an attempt to establish whether we are doing well, whether we are succeeding.
“we tend to measure our own well-being not by how we feel, but by how our lives compare to others.”Martha Beck
When we look outward to evaluate our own well-being, we tend to focus on superficial factors. We don’t know nor can we know everything about the other person. We often don’t know what they went through to get to where they are, we don’t know if they are happy, and we certainly don’t have access to their inner lives.
Instead, we make comparisons based on things like wealth, fame, and success. We then fill in the rest, we imagine the other person’s life using only the most basic information. We see someone with a lot of money, for instance, and we imagine that their life must be wonderful, fulfilling, and satisfying. The problem, however, is that it is possible to have a lot of money, to be famous, or to be successful and yet still be unfulfilled and unhappy.
It seems that lacking a clear idea of what a good life is or what it means to do well, we compare ourselves to others in an attempt to validate our lives, our decisions, and perhaps even attempt to confirm that we are winning. We feel better knowing we have more than others because we convince ourselves it demonstrates success. Such comparisons are doomed to fail, however, because we can always find someone in the world who has more.
When we compare ourselves to others, we distract ourselves from what really matters, from whether we are doing well and are the person we want to be. We need to ask ourselves: What makes a good person? What values and/or principles are important? What makes life meaningful and joyful? We need to reflect on and try to establish some notion of what, for us, is a good life.
Apples to Apples
When we compare ourselves to others, we compare two things that are, at best, only similar in superficial ways. If we really want to measure our own well-being, we should focus on self-comparisons.
Ask yourself: How do I compare to myself from five years ago? What about myself ten years ago? Am I closer to the life I want to live now? Am I living in a way that is right for me? Am I a better person?
When we measure ourselves against who we were in the past, we can focus on important factors when making our assessment. We can consider our principles, our character development, our self-realization, our relationships, and more. We can measure our actual growth and evaluate our actual progress. This allows us to identify areas that need improvement and get a sense of the gains we’ve made.
Comparing ourselves to others leads to self-doubt and dissatisfaction. To compare yourself to someone else is to compare apples and something totally different. Such comparisons are usually superficial and uninformed.
Measuring our own progress and well-being over time gives us a much better assessment. It allows us to take stock of our development, to consider factors that matter to us, and to reflect on our lives and what makes them good or what, for us, counts as success. Looking at our own lives over time we can consider things like how we feel, our character development, our relationships, and much more. More importantly, when we make self-comparisons, we are able to make informed, thoughtful judgments that actually tell us something useful.
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Check out these related articles and posts: Names – Taoism, Belief as a Noble Risk, Imagination, A Choice, Note to Self, What is Luck?, Journal Exercise #5, The World We Create, Accepting Death as a Part of Life, Defining a Life Project, Perspective—In Pursuit of Truth, Developing a Positive Mindset, and Understanding Our Relationship to Suffering.
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