Can you believe it? I bet not.
When we look at other people, our first reaction is to see them for what we want. We view their accolades against our deficiencies and lament at the fact that we aren’t on their level.
We see that Instagram model with 1 million followers and we scoff at the 200 friends who follow us. We watch trashy TV like Keeping up With The Kardashians and wonder how each of them owns multi-million dollar homes while we sit in our studio apartments. And, of course, we follow celebrities like Kanye West and are amazed at their level of fame when we’re hard pressed to find anyone who recognizes us at all.
However, these things aren’t how other people value their lives, but are, in fact, how we want to value our own lives. Which means, of course, that when we look with envy at someone else’s life, chances are they're looking right back at us with the same feeling.
It’s a bias of projections, really. We project our desires onto other people and assume that they want the same thing. So, if you’re an aspiring actress with a loving family, you look at the most recent Academy Award winner and believe she has a perfect life.
But what if her home life was volatile and broken? Maybe she threw herself into acting to escape her family’s troubles. Therefore, she might very well be looking at you as someone who has the perfect life. Crazy, huh?
Or how about those Kardashians I wrote about earlier. Now, I’ve never met them, and I hesitate to speak about anyone’s life when I haven’t experienced it personally, but it’s a good example, so fuck it.
That one sister, what’s her name…oh yeah, Kourtney (trying to prove to you I don’t watch the show). On the surface, her life looks amazing. Front cover of magazines, large houses, fast cars, and lavish vacations. Who wouldn’t want that? But, she also has kids with a guy who seems emotionally volatile and it appears, to an admitted outsider, that her love life is anything but perfect.
So, even if you desire to be famous, and you look at the Kardashians reality show with jealousy, Kourtney might very well look at your life with envy. It’s personal, secluded, and loving.
Ok, one more, and it’s not because Kanye is somehow now connected to the Kardashians. It’s really because Ryan Holiday of The Obstacle is the Way mentioned it on a recent Tim Ferriss Podcast. While many people view Kanye as a musical genius with a perfect life (because he is a musical genius - get at me Kanye), his current goal in life is to start a successful fashion line. He says so on his most recent album.
In fact, he’s lost millions trying to start it and keep it alive. So, to him, he might view himself as a failure, while we look at his music career and see him as a massive success.
So then, we need to stop looking at other people and projecting our own desires onto them. We have no clue what they’re thinking and how they’re valuing their lives.
They have their own mental framework. We have ours. And the more we use it to evaluate other peoples’ lives, the quicker we devalue our own.
How many of us have a friend who makes more money than we do? A lot, I bet. Yet, how often does that same friend talk about an aspect of your career with wistful envy? Maybe you have more freedom than they do. They might have a fatter paycheck, sure, but at what cost? Well, we don’t know, because we’re not living their life, and we only look at the benefits of the salary we want and not its drawbacks.
The grass is always greener. And in this case, it becomes impossible to see the greenery on our own side.
It’s a function of human thinking, I believe. We’re constantly looking at how we can improve our lives, and therefore, we only see things that other people are doing better than us. We use our mental framework to discount our own value and overvalue the lives of others.
So, to combat this, we need to stop projecting. We have to strive to break our mental framework and try to see others how they see themselves. Only then do we get a true picture of a person’s success and the value of their own life.
Because, in reality, value is derived from the self. It doesn’t matter how many other people tell you that your life is awesome, you have to believe it yourself in order for it to be true.
This means, of course, that other people want what you already have. Crazy to think, right?
It’s important to take a step back and identify what those things are. If you think you’re career is deficient, maybe you excel in your personal life. If your personal life is lacking, maybe you’ve defined your dream job and have already attained it.
Life is a constant evolution, and we’ll never be 100% satisfied with it. However, there are many aspects of our lives that are amazing, and yet we discount them and focus on what we don’t have.
To help, we need to stop comparing ourselves to others. We really know nothing about them. We aren’t inside their head, and we have no clue how happy they actually are.
And there’s the rub. The whole point is happiness, no? How much happier will you be if you have an extra 10k Instagram followers? How better will your life be if you have your own reality TV show?
At first glance, you might say that you’d be happier and better off. But you really have no clue. All you’re doing is judging someone else highlight reel against your life story and assuming it’s better.
But, chances are, that person whose life you covet, well, they’re doing the exact same thing to you.
So, the next time that you wish your life was more like someone else’s, imagine that they're looking at you with the same wish. Because more often than not, they are.