Toxic thoughts

There is an ugly underbelly to my mind that I would love to shed. It’s the part that can’t stop comparing my life to others’, the part that feels resentment when life is not exactly fair, the part that prevents me from sometimes being wholeheartedly happy for a friend’s good fortune.

I suppose we all have this part to some degree. We are social animals whose success on the planet depends on our ability to get along, to fit in, to compete. This necessarily requires comparison. Success often feels like a zero-sum game even though many of the things we are most longing for never run out – good relationships, happiness, personal fulfillment.

Right up until this past year, when I finally, undeniably, became an adult, I was still under the naive impression that adulthood came packaged with wisdom and confidence. I’m not sure why I thought this, since I have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary among adults.

But rather than getting over petty comparisons with age, I feel like they are only getting weightier now that the stakes are so much higher: partners, careers, homes, money, children etc. We are setting out the trajectory of our lives and suddenly differences that once seemed small – in income, background, values, talents, ambition and health – all start to seem so much more significant.

Regardless of the path we choose, we all have to make sacrifices along the way – sacrifices that can make our hearts hurt – and it becomes tempting to look around at your neighbours and feel resentment if they didn’t have to make those sacrifices. Of course they made their own, but we don’t see those; we just see our own lack. It becomes painfully obvious that life is not fair.

I have been dwelling on thoughts like this way too much lately. They feel like the thoughts of a really insecure or unhappy person, and I don’t like to believe I am either. Sure, at times I can be both, but overall I am a fortunate person and I know it. I have what I need and that should be enough. My happiness quite simply cannot be based on comparison or I will never be happy.

Now I recognize that getting anywhere near that place will be a life-long challenge.

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Posted on May 26, 2011, in Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. “Regardless of the path we choose, we all have to make sacrifices along the way – sacrifices that can make our hearts hurt – and it becomes tempting to look around at your neighbours and feel resentment if they didn’t have to make those sacrifices. Of course they made their own, but we don’t see those; we just see our own lack. It becomes painfully obvious that life is not fair.”

    I know just what you mean. I have those thoughts too sometimes, despite my best efforts at appreciating all the ways I’m fortunate in my life, and being supportive and genuinely joyful over the successes of my friends and family.

    It can get dangerous for me, to try thinking about what others have sacrificed to get what they have that I want – sometimes it can take an ugly turn down the path of Looking for negative things about their life to make myself feel better. I don’t want to find my sense of accomplishment in another person’s misfortune! it creeps in without my consent sometimes, I have to smash it with a hammer!

    • I know what you mean – the intention behind “just think how lucky you are compared to so and so…” is meant to be good, but really, you are supposed to feel good based on someone else feeling bad? Just seems like it leads down the wrong way of thinking.

  2. I have these same kind of thoughts, all the time. Every single time someone close to me celebrates a life event that I haven’t yet, or goes on a path different from mine, I second-guess myself and compare. I think it’s more natural than we are lead to belive.

    Do you read The Happiness Project? That’s been a really helpful tool to me for cultivating my own happiness – Gretchen is really great at making it okay to be happy WITH thoughts like that in your head, instead of thinking that you have to get rid of them completely to be a happy person.

    • I’ll have to check it out – the author of the Quiet Blog has also mentioned it a few times now.

      And I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in this – the comparisons feel so wrong, really toxic is the only word for it, but I think it’s true that you probably can’t ever get completely rid of it, you just have to acknowledge it and not let it take over.

  3. Wise, this is very wise. I struggle with those thoughts. A lot.

    I actually struggle with the success part more, though. Because I know that my sisters, my friends don’t see the sacrifices. They just see the shiny good things, and it can impede our relationships. Which is rough. So I love it when people admit these thoughts, when we admit that being the same age as our parents were when we were young doesn’t magically imbue us with the confidence that we thought they had.

    You’re so awesome. I always want to buy you a drink and sit down with you after one of your posts.

    • Aww… you’re sweet. I’ll get the next round.

      And yes so true, just as we don’t see others’ sacrifices, they don’t see ours. They are hard to talk about, because they are usually the part we don’t see in the lives we lead.

  4. I’ll second what Jo says. Actually, everyone up there.

    /end horribly lame comment.

  1. Pingback: A Yellow Wood « Post-Graduate Pie

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