We assess every facet of our lives in comparison to others. Do I make more or less money than my peers? Do I live in a smaller or bigger house than my parents or siblings? Do I have a more important job than the people I went to school with? Am I in better physical shape than my friends? Are my children as successful as my friends’ children?
There are a number of problems with keeping score in this way:
• Being more “successful” than those to whom you compare yourself may not make you happy.
• People have completely different advantages and “starting points.” If you are in the race for wealth, you may be at quite a disadvantage competing against someone who has inherited a vast fortune. In every respect — beauty, intelligence, athletic ability — people have widely varying inheritances.
• There will always be others who are more successful than you in some way, thus it may be impossible to win the game; this fact may lead you to feel bitter. Conversely, there will always be those who are not as successful as yourself, perhaps leading you to arrogance or conceit.
• You have no control over the actions of others. Thus, no matter how hard you try, you may lose the game. And just the fact of not having control may be frustrating.
• Those whom you are competing against may play by a completely different set of rules; it is very frustrating to play a game against those who use different rules.
• Competition with others implies that for some to win, others must lose. This is neither healthy nor true. In fact, when an individual creates value, many people benefit.
Once you’ve determined how you will create value, decide how you will keep track of that value — that is your way of keeping score. And remember that the game is with yourself, not others. This outlook has a number of very important advantages:
• While you have little or no control over the actions of others, you have almost complete control over your own actions. It is true that there are some events over which you have no control; your plane may crash, you may develop cancer — but overall, on a day-to-day basis, you have a very high degree of control, and complete control over the choices you make. Each day you can decide what you will try to accomplish; each day you can make a full effort, or not. Only you can decide how hard you will work to achieve your goals.
• You can make your own rules and prioritize your values.
• You can score yourself only on those aspects of your life which you believe will lead you to happiness. Perhaps you already have enough money to meet your needs, and you decide that raising happy children is the way that you enjoy creating value. If so, you can focus on your children, and not worry whether your income is keeping pace with others. But if you decide to focus on your children, you should also avoid comparisons in this area. What matters is whether your children are as happy as possible; not whether they’re as happy as someone else’s children.
Don’t compare yourself to others; focus on improving yourself and your own situation.