In the world today where we are being shown images of the rich and famous enjoying themselves, social media where we can see what our so called friends are up to and the constant newsfeed that tells us what we must do to be slim, beautiful and wise- it is easy to compare ourselves with others. Yet, having thought about it, I believe it is the surefire way to be miserable. But can we avoid this?
I think if you really must want to compare yourself with others, then pick the people who have less than you. Pick up people who you might see in the streets, homeless, who have suffered from illness or crime, etc. See how lucky you have been, what privileges you have had and how much better off you are. This is not about gloating about your life but realising that though there may be many people who are healthier, wealthier and more beautiful than you, there are even more people who are in less fortunate position than you. Then do something to help these people. That will make you happier even. And as the Beatles sang, ‘Money can’t buy you love!’ But this is still relative happiness. Do it only if you want relative happiness.
But by helping others, you can turn relative happiness into absolute happiness. The feeling of ‘absolute and unshakeable’ happiness is amazing and empowering. If your friend is sad, offer a shoulder to cry on; if you see someone homeless think of ways to help them (and it doesn’t need to involve money!) and do some work in the community. Open up your life to others and the environment. It is not the relative happiness where you end up comparing yourself with others who you think are higher up in life’s ladder than yourself. Or even with others less lucky than you. Misery is always relative while it is possible to achieve absolute happiness. Think about how much mental energy and time it takes you to compare yourself to others- and just to end up with misery as the final goal.
When things are not going well for us, we tend to go inside (both physically and literally) and huddle. There, in our state of misery we stay until we think that things will get better and we can emerge from under the covers and re-engage with life. Yet the longer we stay in that cover, the longer we take to heal. Reaching out and opening up to others helps to make our own sorrow go quickly. It is not simply about positive thinking. It is about taking action. When our own heart is full of sorrow, it is then we need to reach out and help others overcome their own. In doing so- whether by listening or helping with chores- this active engagement with others and with life, helps us to overcome our disappointment and sadness. In such ways, our problems become our ‘mission’- they are no longer obstacles but they are opportunities for growth and renewal. After going through the pain of several miscarriages, I went on to help others who had suffered similarly. When finally my son was born, alive and kicking, I realised that even if I had another miscarriage, I was already healed. Kindness towards others helps us heal mentally and physically-
There are many new movements around the world, calling for ‘Random acts of kindness’- latest trends on twitter is about someone leaving money in secret locations or buying coffee for others. However, we don’t always have to spend money. The kindest act someone has done for me which I will never forget consisted of being there and being silent. She just held out tissues while I cried after losing my fifth baby after five months of pregnancy. This woman did not say irritating or hurtful things like, “Don’t cry”- “You can always get pregnant again”- “it was only a miscarriage”- “At least you are alive” etc etc which others did in misguided acts of kindness. She did not have children of her own but yet understood how difficult it was for me. I bumped into her two days ago after ten years. I only had to say, “Do you remember?” She nodded and I squeezed her hand silently. One never forgets true kindness.