On a recent trip I took to Myanmar, I went with my Dad to visit the grave of my grand uncle who was a missionary in the country in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The trip, like many of my travels, was an eye opener and a perspective shifter. Travelling as ever became a powerful, transformational experience that reminded me of things that I found so easy to forget. Indeed, despite the complexity of the causes of human misery, I feel compelled to discuss one core suggestion that I believe explains where much of the modern day melancholy seems to come from. I’m hoping it will help you like it helps me.
I’ve talked before about the addiction that we have to social media, email, the web, television. Our brains are becoming more and more wired to seek rewards in the form of entertainment. We are trained to think in terms of goals and outcomes. This is a good thing to an extent as it helps us be more strategic as individuals. The problems lie in how it sometimes does this.
We continuously experience images of the ideal. Movies, TV shows, Facebook or Instagram photos all show lifestyles that we desire or crave. Advertisers and Marketers do their very best to make us feel a need for their product. Of course, with all of this desire and limited resources, it is easy to feel lacking. FOMO or Fear of Missing Out is often cited as a modern day phenomenon that affects much of the western world. There are so many new ways to be disappointed.
Now, in the poorer countries such as Myanmar, there are advertisements of course as there is social media access but the difference I believe lies in the idea that most people there do not feel such desires are their right. Instead, they accept their circumstances. One might argue that the very acceptance of circumstances makes you less motivated and more likely to settle for what you have. But the reality is that our lack of acceptance leads to a sense of misery.
There are so many things that we could have or could do. There are so many people we could be with. We seemingly have an abundance of choice and yet we can’t get everything we want. In this world of comparison, it is easy to feel less than by comparing ourselves with someone who has something, anything that we don’t.
From the work I have done over the years on myself I developed massive self-belief. I began to believe that anything was possible and that I could have everything I craved and desired if I just put my mind to it and worked smart enough and hard enough. But the reality is that everything you choose to go for has consequences and sacrifices will always have to be made.
There simply isn’t enough time or resources or energy to accomplish absolutely everything we want as the infinite possibilities invented by our amazing imaginations are greater than our capacity to make them happen. So, what is there to do?
Like everything, the secret lies in balance. In spending time once more with people who have very little, it offers perspective on what we take for granted. By where you are born, the family you are born in, the society and time you grow up in… you are given a certain amount of opportunities. The key is to make the most of these opportunities and strive to better yourself and better your lifestyle in whatever way you can.
At the same time, a certain amount of acceptance is critical to being happy. Accepting that there are some limitations and some sacrifices that need to be made is important. Understanding that what you take for granted is, in fact, a mark of incredible fortune is key. Reminding yourself of all you have to feel grateful of and deciding that there may be certain things you will never have or do or people you will never be with. It’s life. And it’s because of this that we need to change our attitude toward comparison.
Comparing ourselves to others is either delusional (when we think we are better) or a recipe for insecurity and fear (when we think we are worse). In reality, we are no worse or better than anyone. We are just us and they are them. We can learn from them and see them as models who can teach us how to improve ourselves and we can help them do the same through the example we provide.
Straight up comparing often leads to some of the least enviable behaviours of hate, racism and discrimination toward people different to ourselves. Instead, we need to only compare ourselves with others in one way. We need to ask ourselves how we are just like the other person. What do we have in common? That way, we can find our shared humanity and we can be more accepting of ourselves and others.
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