Other People’s Lives

A Star to DiscoverRemember that old saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”? I guess this is a human failing that has been with us for a long time because even one of the Ten Commandments addresses “coveting”. Have you compared yourself to other people and thought they were more successful than you, had more money, more advantages, happier relationships, were better looking, better parents, smarter, more creative, more confident, etc., etc.? Did you “covet” what they had? I think envying what other people have (or your perception of what they have) leads to thoughts and behavior that can only diminish your self-respect. I admit that I’ve wasted a fair amount of time and energy on that type of counterproductive thinking. For a long time I didn’t understand that success has to be defined by each individual – no one has the right to tell you what success means. It’s also important to understand the distinction between admiring someone and finding inspiration from the way they live their life and comparing yourself unfavorably or envying them. I believe that until you make peace with who you are you’ll never be content with what you have.

Here’s a news flash – everyone has their insecurities, doubts, and fears. Everyone has burdens they have to carry and, as an outside observer of their life, you can’t know what they are. No life is “perfect” or free of sorrow and pain – no matter how great it may look from the outside. A divorced friend of mine once told me that she always felt so lonely and like a failure when she observed all the “happy” couples and families in church. I told her that she should not compare her life to what she perceives other lives to be because that is all it is – her perception. Anyone who had observed her in church with her husband before they were divorced would have had no idea how unhappy she was. There is no way to know what is going on in someone else’s marriage based on outward appearances. As a divorced person, I was often envious of friends who seemed to be happily married but, many of those friends are now divorced, proving again that it is a mistake to compare your life to anyone else’s life.

I once had a conversation with a happily married friend who told me that she was envious of me because I was single and could do whatever I wanted without discussing it or compromising with anyone. She said she loved her husband but was envious of my “personal freedom”. That eye-opening conversation occurred when I was in my mid 40’s, a period of great personal growth for me, and the timing was perfect because it helped me to see that each of us truly has a unique life and our own path to travel. It is our responsibility to use the opportunities and abilities to create a happy, meaningful life. Can we have every single thing we desire? Probably not. If we get to the other side of the fence is the grass actually greener? Probably not. An important part of my own journey has been learning to be grateful for the many gifts I have been given and the life I have created. Adopting an attitude of gratitude allowed me to feel genuine happiness for someone else’s success without envying them or comparing myself to them.

I recently read something that was written by a hospice nurse who noted that the most common regret she heard from patients with a short time to live was that they wished they had the courage to live a life that was true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. It does take courage to live a life in which you are true to yourself but a good place to start is to stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, compare yourself to the person you were yesterday and try to be closer to your true self today. Remember, personal responsibility is implicit in our God-given right to the “pursuit of happiness”. Did you think that meant you have the right to be happy? Sorry to break it to you but, it simply means we have the right and the free will to pursue happiness – and don’t delude yourself into thinking that having equal rights means everyone is entitled to the same level of happiness or success. Equal rights are merely a starting point, not a guarantee of outcomes. Our own choices, actions, and thoughts, along with how we play the hand we’re dealt, will determine our happiness.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony. ~Mahatma Gandhi

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