Pursuit of Happiness: Can you avoid social comparisons?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Pursuit of Happiness
SOCIAL COMPARISON isn't an invention of the modern age. In the 17th Century, a Flemish painter made the same point Sonja Lyubomirsky argues in her book The How of Happiness.

SOCIAL COMPARISON isn’t an invention of the modern age. In the 17th Century, a Flemish painter made the same point Sonja Lyubomirsky argues in her book The How of Happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is your “inalienable right”—but is it actually possible to realize it? Are there prescriptions you can follow that will make you happier?

There are, according to happiness researchers. Half of your happiness is genetically determined, as we discussed yesterday. But as much as 40% of your happiness can be influenced by intentional activities—what you think and do.

One happiness booster is avoiding “social comparisons,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Social comparisons are everywhere, she notes. “In our daily lives we can’t help noticing whether our friends, coworkers, family members, and even fictional characters in the movies are brighter, richer, healthier, wittier, or more attractive than we are.” These comparisons can be helpful if they encourage us to work harder to meet our goals, or fix our weaknesses. Taken to the extreme, however, social comparisons make us profoundly unhappy.

Our culture supports making social comparisons to the extreme. Getting ahead is a core value in American society, and it’s all about success relative to others. But we can’t be happy if we are envious of others’ successes or revel in their failures.

Happy people are aware of others’ successes, but limit comparing themselves to others. They cultivate the mental habit of enjoying what they have and judging their own success by internal standards. They get out of the practice of judging their self-worth by how well they compare to others.

Happy people also focus on their own goals and measure their success by progress toward them, not by how quickly others achieve their goals.

What kind of social comparisons do you make?

Do you feel envious of others?

Do you judge your success by internal standards?

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