Lately, a friend of mine sent me a message for the first time after months and brought me up to speed what had been going on in her life. Apparently, she unfortunately had experienced a bad luck streak which led to her saying that she really envied me for what I have. Since it is not the first time that I hear that, I have been thinking a lot lately about all the comparisons that we make in life and how they spoil our happiness.
My friend still lives in my hometown, goes to the same bars that we used to go to back then, meets with her other friends who are also still there – meanwhile she thinks how lucky I am to live this big, adventurous life of mine. Whereas I sometimes think how lucky she is for still having this homely feeling, for still being part of that life that had once been so dear to me.
When I gave up my job to follow my husband around the world, some of my colleagues expressed their envy (in a positive way). After the first couple of months without a career, though, I started thinking how nice it would be to once again wear a business suit, fly around the world, live in fancy hotels, attend conferences…
Of course, Facebook and Twitter and whatnot do not really help, since we all post the happiest and jolliest pictures of us that we can find, so everybody gets the impression that our life is a big party. But unless your last name is Kardashian, whose life is a constant party? We create an image of ourselves on Facebook, but sadly, anybody thinks that this is reality. It is not! It is like a commercial for our lives, and surely it is not a documentary. Once we understand that, we might stop comparing.
Because comparing ourselves to others doesn’t do us any good. We all know it, yet we all do it. People who are single look at happy couples and wish they had a partner. Then they find that significant other and glance at their single friends who are all so enviably unattached. Or they look at other couples who are already married, and all of a sudden, the happy relationship is worth nothing – until that ring sparkles on their finger. The first marriage bliss though fades away in view of everyday life – but wait, if we had children, we would be so much happier!
At a certain stage in life, children seem to become the make or break factor for our happiness. Childless people envy all those large families they see at Walmart, whereas the mother of triplets shoots a jealous glance over to the cuddly couple who seem so happy without the ordinary kids’ chaos.
The truth is simple: Nothing is perfect. Or maybe the opposite is true: Everything IS perfect, but we choose not to see it. After all, it is all a matter of perspective. As long as I always admire the greener grass on the other side of the fence, I will never pay attention to the lovely roses in my own yard. We all have to make a decision whether we WANT to be happy or not. That sounds easy, but it is hard work – and kind of scary. For let’s face it: Being happy is not in our upbringing.
We all learn that nothing is true and deep and intense, if we don’t suffer. Tolstoi lets Ana Karenina die once she decides to follow her heart. The minute Kundera’s Tomas decides to be happy with the lovely Tereza, they suffer a deadly car crash. Well, and we all know about the Sorrows of Young Werther. There are no books nor movies about people who are once and for all happy. What kind of a story would that ultimately be?
I don’t mean that we need to close our eyes to our desires and strivings and refrain from all kinds of change. But it has to be OUR desires, it has to be what makes us US, not what we see on happy summer sunshine Facebook pictures of others. Following someone else’s example, won’t make us happy. And once we have determined what we want, we shouldn’t shy away from it out of lack of faith in the principles of happiness. And then finally, when we have reached our goal, we shouldn’t spoil it again by making comparisons. Eventually, we might be in for a happy ending!