Comparison is generally the thief of joy. What to do?

Choice can be the thief of joy

Thief of joy

The human race have never been better off than today, in everyway imaginable, yet most have never felt so poor, unhappy, burned out, etc.

Comparison is the thief of joy. But it can be the source of happiness, it all depends on the comparison. I saw the Dali Lama speak and someone asked him if he was sad he could not go to Tibet. He said, “yes” and the gasp from 10 000 person crowd was amazing.

Gift of comparison

What he said next has helped me many times. I paraphrase, “I am Buddhist so for me it does not end there. If I was allowed to go to Tibet I would never leave as it is the most beautiful place on earth. But because I can not go, I can come here and meet all you wonderful people. That makes me very happy and that is what I focus on.”

He chooses what he compares to and which side of the comparison he focuses on. In the end there is normally something we can compare to that is much worse than what we have. It is not always easy, but it is likely available to us. It requires practice as you want to practice on the little things before the big things get a hold of you.

I was listening to a great e-book Same as Ever (his other book ‘Psychology of Money’ is in my top 5 books every). In it Morgan Housel goes over studies showing most Americans think the 1950 were the ‘golden era’. But in every measurable way it was worse than now except for one thing. The internet.

The law of LARGE numbers

I digress for one quick paragraph. In the book he goes over some math. Say there is a 1 in 100 million chance something can happen to a person. Then that would happen about 79 times a day! Think about that. Here is where it’s relevant. With the internet you will hear of a few of those events every day. It will skew your mind to think something that radical is fairly normal. Heck if it’s one in a Billion it’s going to happen 7-8 times A DAY!!!

It is tough to be unique when say it’s only one in a hundred chance it can happen to someone. In a village of a few thousand it’s kind of neat when it happens. On a large population base of 300-400 million it’s happening million’s of times a day. It’s so benign no one cares. Yet in the 1950’s it would have been unique. Comparison can be the thief of joy.

In the book “Same as Ever” he shows the math on how we have never been so “rich” but because we are comparing and living in such a world were we hear of the 15 000 sq/ft house, 10 car garage, million dollar necklaces, trips all over the world….. We get brainwashed and have “lifestyle creep.” Everybody else has a big RV, boat, the best internet pic ever. Well then so should I. What’s that going to cost, who cares I got credit.

All this takes more than an article to cover but below is a little blurb on how to rein it in a bit. (do your funny bone a favor and hit that last link.)

Lowering the surface area

I was reading from Shane Parrish about reducing the surface area. I thought it was so good I wrote this whole article around it and I cut and pasted his article below.

A different take on what makes us feel so busy, stressed, and anxious.

As a rule, the larger your surface area, the more energy you have to expend maintaining it. Of course, when most of us think of surface area, we think of the area of a rectangle or how much grass we have to mow. But there is a surface area of life, and most of us never realize how much it consumes.

If you have one house, you have a relatively small surface area to maintain (depending on the age and size of the house, of course). If you buy another one, your surface area expands. But it doesn’t expand linearly – it expands slightly above that. It’s all the same work plus more.

Friends are another type of surface area. You have a finite amount of time to spend with friends before you die. The more friends you have, the less time you can spend with each one individually.

Money is another form of surface area. The more money you have, the more you have to keep track of different types of assets and investments.

When your surface area expands too much, you hire people to help you scale. Assistants, property managers, family offices, etc. They’re scaling you – but they’re also scaling the surface area of responsibility. This, of course, only masks the rapidly expanding surface area by abstracting it.

Beliefs are another type of surface area.

The thing about surface area is that the more you have, the more you have to defend and maintain. The larger your surface area, the more you are burdened with mentally and physically.

If you think in terms of surface area, it’s easy to see why we are so anxious, stressed, and constantly behind.

We feel like we need more time, but what we’re craving is more focus. What we need is a smaller surface area.

Your surface area becomes part of your identity. She’s the ‘busy person’ with her hand in every project. He’s the guy with four houses.

Competition can drive expansion. Most people want a bigger house to compete with someone else who has a nicer house. We are animals, after all. On a group level, this causes great benefits. On an individual level, it can cause unhappiness.

Most of the really happy people I know have a relatively small surface area. I know billionaires with two houses. Most of my close friends only have 4-5 close friends – everyone else is a friend in the loose sense of the word. Most of the productive people I know at work are focused on one or two things, not 5. The way to maximize your enjoyment in life is to keep your surface area small. It’s a lot of work but if the happiest people I know are any indication, it’s a lot less work to keep it small than to maintain it when it’s large.

Be Well,
Ward Willison R.Ac.
Kelowna Acupuncture & Other Natural Therapies

Scroll to Top