Equipped With Happiness


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Be Happier By Making The Right Comparisons

comparisoncartoonThe temptation to compare ourselves to others seems to affect pretty much everyone. We might find ourselves wondering if we make as much money as our coworkers. Or we might sneak a quick peek to find out if the person on the treadmill beside us is running faster than we are. Comparisons can be beneficial to us, if we approach them in the right way. But, if we aren’t careful, they can also damage our self-esteem.

Recognizing how self-image is impacted can help us learn to make more productive comparisons.

People often let the way they measure up to others determine how they feel about themselves. If we evaluate our own assets as superior to the assets of the person next to us, our self-esteem goes up. But, if that person is more successful, attractive, or talented than we are, we may start feeling rather discouraged. Neither of these scenarios is ideal.

It is important to remember that when comparisons increase our self-esteem, the effects are only temporary. If our feelings of self-worth are dependent on being better than someone else, we run the risk of our self-esteem being shattered when someone below us eventually surpasses us. Lasting confidence comes from pride in our own strengths, not pride in having more strengths than others.

Not only that, we may damage our self-esteem by cutting ourselves down when we feel inferior to others. This is unproductive, especially because the comparisons we make often aren’t entirely fair. People seem to have a tendency to compare themselves to celebrities, models, billionaires, and other uncommonly successful figures. When we do this, we set ourselves up to feel subpar. Even when we do compare ourselves to people “in our league,” we may not take the full story into account. For instance, the acquaintance whose quick climb up the corporate ladder made us question our own career choices may in fact be the CEO’s nephew (a significant advantage).

Instead of using comparisons to evaluate our worth, we should use them to help us become the people we want to be.

Comparisons can help us see ourselves more accurately: While it is certainly good base our sense of accomplishment on our individual progress, it is also valuable to understand where our abilities fit in the grand scheme of things. For example, if we begin taking piano lessons, we have every right to take pride in mastering “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But perhaps we would be wise to see how we compare to other pianists before we start calling ourselves Beethoven.

Comparisons can help us identify goals: If we do happen to find ourselves feeling insecure in response to someone else’s accomplishments, we can turn it into an opportunity to improve. Instead of convincing ourselves we are weak because we can’t lift as much weight as our friends, we could focus on creating a new workout plan that allows us to build more muscle. Not only that, if we notice the majority of our self-esteem seems to come from feeling superior to others, it is possible that we have some underlying insecurities. Awareness of our insecurities gives us a chance to examine their cause. This allows us to set, and accomplish, goals that will make us feel more confident.

If we are careful about how we use comparisons, they can help us maximize our happiness. Comparisons made in the spirit of self-improvement give us valuable opportunities to develop ourselves, and our lives, in directions that bring us greater satisfaction. We just have to make sure our self-esteem doesn’t get involved in the process.


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Be Happier By Treating Yourself Lovingly

treatyourselfwithlovecartoonAt some point in their lives, most people have felt mistreated by someone else. But sometimes the greatest cruelty we face actually comes from within ourselves. When this happens, we often aren’t even aware we are treating ourselves poorly.

That’s why we might benefit from living by a new “golden rule”: Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. Before we perform actions or engage in thoughts directed towards ourselves, we should stop and consider whether we would appreciate that same treatment if it came from someone else.

Of course, each of us has unique desires regarding how we would like to be treated, so the way we should act toward ourselves may also differ. But the following guidelines might be a reasonable place to start. After each “don’t” is a happier, alternative “do.”

Don’t criticize yourself too harshly: No matter how much we wish it wasn’t true, we all have less-than-perfect moments.  When we make mistakes, we often fling mental insults at ourselves. Sometimes we are so good at this that we manage to convince ourselves we really are terrible people. But I think most of us would feel abused if another person tore us apart over our failures that way. So, we should be careful to show ourselves compassion, even when we are disappointed by our imperfections.

Do praise yourself: Compliments make us feel good, and we like it when others notice and express positive things about us. We can extend the same courtesy toward ourselves by acknowledging our personal successes and valuing our strengths.

Don’t Make Excuses For Yourself: While it is important to avoid being overly critical, we should not go to the other extreme of allowing ourselves to get away with everything. Almost anything we do wrong can be justified somehow, and it is tempting to accept questionable justifications to avoid the pain of admitting a mistake. The problem is, doing that means being dishonest with ourselves (which is treatment we wouldn’t want from others). It is better to acknowledge our errors, forgive ourselves, and try to do better in the future.

Do Encourage Yourself to Grow: Moments of imperfection can be great opportunities for self-improvement, if we take the time to analyze them and correct whatever went wrong. Rather than feeling bad about mistakes, or pretending they don’t exist, we can take on the challenge of bettering ourselves by not repeating them.

Don’t Punish Yourself:  Sometimes feeling bad about ourselves escalates into a belief that our shortcomings are so severe  we don’t deserve happiness. We end up undermining relationships, missing opportunities, and denying ourselves satisfactions because we feel unworthy of them. But the natural consequences of our mistakes are punishment enough. After all, if we accidentally spilled tomato sauce on a friend’s shirt, we would hope the friend would simply allow us to pay for a new one, rather than seek revenge by attacking our own wardrobe with grape juice.

Do seek enjoyment for yourself: When other people take the time to do nice things for us, it generally makes us happy. So, we should take the time to do nice things for ourselves, too. This could mean indulging in a favorite dessert, taking a day off from work, going for a long run, planning a day with friends, or engaging in any other activity that brings us pleasure.

Frustrating as it is, we can’t always control the injustices inflicted on us by others. But we can avoid mistreating ourselves, and we even have the chance to create some extra happiness in the process.


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Be Happier By Accepting Sadness

sadness cartoonOne of the biggest mistakes people make in the quest for optimism is confusing actually being happy with refusing to be sad. In reality, there is a huge difference between the two. Real happiness comes from accepting sadness, not pretending it doesn’t exist.

As children learn early on, covering up a mess doesn’t make it go away. You might be able to fool your mom into thinking you cleaned your room by shoving everything under the bed for a while, but when she finally discovers those stale Cheetos and dirty socks hiding down there, it isn’t a pretty sight. The same is true for sadness.

For a while, we are able to ignore sadness. We can put on a brave face and hope that if we manage to convince everyone else we’re fine, we’ll eventually believe it ourselves. But, in the end, the bad feelings always creep out from under the bed. Sometimes, like those forgotten pizza crusts, they even re-emerge uglier than when we first hid them away.

Sadness itself isn’t the enemy. In fact, we wouldn’t feel happiness as strongly without it.

The important thing is learning to handle sadness productively. This involves a few steps:

  1. Feel the sadness. Allowing yourself to be unhappy for a while, and accepting that it’s okay to feel that way, makes it easier to truly let go of the negative feelings later on.
  2. Understand the sadness. Sort out the root causes of your feelings, being as honest with yourself as possible. Figuring out exactly why you’re unhappy will enable you to figure out the most practical approach to feeling better.
  3. Move forward from the sadness. Sometimes this is as simple as eliminating the source of your unhappiness. This might mean abruptly ending something negative, such as a bad relationship or an unpleasant job. It could also mean starting a lengthier process, like a diet. Other times, the source of unhappiness can’t be eliminated. In those cases, moving forward might require finding happiness in other places, and allowing newfound happiness to eventually overpower the sadness.

Difficult as dealing with sadness can be, it’s a mess worth cleaning up properly. After the hard work of accepting and processing sadness is over, we are free to enjoy real happiness that isn’t tainted by the stench of bad feelings lurking just out of sight.