I know too well that I shouldn’t be measuring up against the Jones. It does no good to me at all. Not to my ego, my dignity or my soul.
But at times, I just can’t help it. Singapore’s meritocratic system has trained me too well. I am conditioned to compete in schools for grades, at work for promotions, and in life for success and mates.
There is a Chinese saying, “when people compare, it kills them” (人比人，气死人).
Sad right? But social conditioning is powerful. It is what I was taught by school, society and even family. And I see this crazy race to compete and compare, everyday when I go to work.
Comparing the apples
Recently, I learned about 2 people who have already achieved the goals that I am striving so hard to reach.
Person A has a annual passive income of 60k. She seems happy, successful and rich. Her net worth is double of mine.
And person B has achieved an annual passive income of about 100k! He lives in a condo with his homemaker wife and kid. Now, he is studying for a new course in life.
All 3 of us have similar social backgrounds. We started at the same beginning line. Now at halfway mark, they are far ahead of me in life’s race.
Does it matter if the apples are red or green?
Before this, I thought I was doing well. I may not have many symbols of wealth, but I have enough. And there are others who envy me.
And more importantly, I have people who love me. I am very grateful for that.
So in absolute wealth, I am actually doing fine. But research has shown that humans become unhappy when they compare relative wealth.
This means that I might be satisfied if I measure my personal achievements. But when I compare with someone who have more, my happiness index drops.
In Singapore, everything measurable is measured. There are studies on GDP growth, about household incomes, and even on how happy poor people are.
Reports might show that we are happier, more successful or have more jobs. But ironically, these constant comparisons actually make us even more dissatisfied.
I may already be contented. But when I read that I earn less than the median income or that the average family is happier than mine, then I will probably become unhappy.
So if I want to feel good, I should compare with someone who has little. But to feel better at someone’s misfortune feels pathetic. A better way is obviously, not to compare.
Being in the meritocracy system for so long, it is not easy to change. But I have travelled widely and seen much. I have developed enough fortitude and resilience to fight my feelings of envy.
I may be the green apple while comparing against the reds. Same yet different.
Being grateful everyday
There is always someone richer, better looking or luckier. There is simply no point comparing.
Financial wealth is just one measuring scale. There are many others like love, family and health.
I like this Chinese saying: 命里有时终须有, 命里无时莫强求. It reminds me that many things in life are fated. It is pointless to force.
Recently, I have started keeping a gratitude diary. I am counting my blessings more, because I want to be more conscious of my personal happiness.
Hopefully, by being grateful for the little things, I will be just as contented with the bigger issues in life.