If you search for evidence of others' success, you will find it. If you want to know how much more attractive others are compared to you, proof will pop up everywhere. And if you want to know the interest your partner takes in other things, other people, other experiences that don't include you, examples will abound.
We find what we look for. And we often look for the wrong things -- things that make us feel
less than, not good enough, and not lovable.
So why do we look for the wrong things? In my counseling practice, I hear more and more, from clients of all ages and walks of life, about how they consistently compare themselves to others who always have it so much better. Sure, social media has fueled this obsession -- and it does, for many, become an obsessive search -- because it offers an easy, omnipresent invitation to compare and find everything that we lack. Even the most strong-willed abstainers from all things online have a hard time ignoring the buzz around what is trending, influencing, and viral-ing on the social media platforms they don't visit. But, even before the digital comparison frenzy took hold, we were hardwired to look outside and around us for a standard of acceptability. We needed to fit into a community for our very survival. Looking to others and aspiring to be better was central to our evolution as social beings. It still is: if we want to be socially connected -- which we do because we are pack animals -- we will hardly escape the virtual and real chatter about how life is supposed to be, as presented by Everyone Else. And Everyone Else presents what is great about their life because vulnerability is considered a weakness and nobody wants to share theirs. So, the success, beauty, talents, luck, and joys of others become our benchmark for what makes life good.
The trouble with this is that we will always fall short, because we keep looking for the wrong things; we keep looking for what others portray as "life as it should be," and actually miss how life is. We can't see what is good, or just good enough, about our own experience when we are consumed with looking for what it isn't. We can only see what is missing according to that benchmark, and overlook what is present. Teddy knew, in the late 19th century, that comparison is the thief of joy, because while it may have inspired us to progress, it mostly left us feeling deflated, less than, envious, and bitter.
We often justify what we are looking for by rationalizing the need to know, to stay abreast, to have a point of reference, to measure up, and so we keep looking for the shiniest objects missing from our own lives -- and we find them. Yet often, what looks like a diamond is just a piece of glass, and the diamond in the rough that sits in the corner of our mind waiting to be polished, goes unnoticed.
With practice and some discipline, we can learn to look for the diamond in the rough, polish it, appreciate the sparkle from its own essence, not to be dulled by the artificial light of other objects. Is it not worth looking for the right thing? If we look for what is good in ourselves and our relationships, what is enjoyable, comfortable, and peaceful, chances are good that we'll find it.