I recently caved into one of my not-so-proud-of neuroses of assessing how I stack up compared with others. How happy am I compared with others? How successful am I compared with others? Who has babies? (I don’t and want them badly.) Who still looks good and how do I look in comparison?
It doesn’t get pretty from here. In spite of my better judgment, I succumbed. I looked up an old boyfriend from my twenties, and, in doing so, discovered that he was way ahead of me (in the traditional sense): more awards, more successful in his career and more kids than me (he’s a proud father of two).
The bummer is that I had been “ahead of him” (again, in the traditional sense) when we dated. When we met, I was a recent graduate of Stanford and about to head to a masters program at Brown; he was a recent graduate of University of Washington. I was coming off of international work stints in Mexico and West Africa, a glamorous job working on the Hill in Washington, DC, and was the current director of a youth leadership organization noted by the Points of Lights Foundation; he was painting houses and waiting tables. The tables have turned – and, well, I can’t help but feel a little envious.
There’s a term for this. Researchers call this well-documented, all-too-human tendency the Hedonic Treadmill, coined over 30 years ago by Brickman and Campbell in a research paper titled “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.” In the game of trying to compete and outdo our fellow human beings, we’re never rich enough, successful enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, and the list goes on. Even when we win something, the thrill lasts for a flash. All too quickly, we adapt and the good news becomes old news.
Not to say that I’m over it (I’m not), but there are a few things that have helped to get off the compare-myself-with-others treadmill:
- Tell myself (over and over again) that I really do have enough, right now.
- Notice – and NAME – the good things in my life (like, hello, I just had my first book published, I am engaged to the most handsome man in the world, and I have the most awesome family and friends I could ever ask for).
- Simply breathe and with each inhale, breathe (and think), “Peace.” With each exhale, breathe (and think), “Love.”
Nothing new and way too corny for my sarcastic, over-educated self to embrace. But, oddly enough, it’s actually working.