Comparing yourself to others is the best way to be unhappy! A journey of FIRE (financial independence retire early) and journey of life…

 

Watkins Glen State Park, NY

Unknown:  “A cemetery is the only place where people don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.”

Recently, my wife shared with me a video of a psychiatrist who was discussing the topic of happiness.  In the video, she was discussing all the ways one can try to be happy and all the ways one can try to be unhappy.  Out of all the good things she discussed, one of the statements that stuck with me was when she stated that comparing yourself to others is the worst enemy of happiness.

That really got me thinking.  

When I was a young teenager, like everyone in that age bracket, I lived to be like someone else.  I wanted to be like Michal Jordan, Bruce Lee, or any number of famous celebrities that were rich and famous.  This got me into learning Taekwondo to try to emulate Bruce Lee, and this got me copying basketballs moves ala Michael Jordan.  

Although I didn’t become any one of my idols, I at least got to experience what it’s like to learn Taekwondo or play a game of basketball.  It’s perfectly normal for young and impressionable teenagers to want to emulate their heroes or idols.  

This idea of social comparison is what makes us human.  We constantly analyze ourselves in relation to others to gauge our place in society.  

As we grow out of our teenage years, most of us will forge our own personalities through interactions with others, learning new ideas/skills, and experiencing the world through our own unique ways.  By the time we’re in our early twenties to mid twenties, we’re mostly aware of our place in society with our unique shortcomings/strengths, but learning to adapt as best we can to the world.

Even as we grow older, one of the hardest things to let go is our innate ability to constantly compare ourselves to others.  It is this fact that I believe many of us are having a hard time living a happy and a fulfilling existence.

How many times have we all seen people doing all of these following things below to one up each other?

  • Buying a bigger home than your family/friends/colleagues 
  • Buying a fancier car than people you know
  • Going on exotic vacations
  • Buying name brand clothes/jewelry/accessories 
  • Going shopping constantly for everything (food, clothing, toys, tools, etc.)
  • Renovating your home often or updating your home’s decor often
  • Eating out constantly at sit down restaurants, looking to post photos/videos online 
These are just the financial side of things.  Don’t forget about comparing yourself to others with things like schools, jobs, promotions, and if you have children, your children’s schools, jobs, and promotions.

Our constant need to compare ourselves with others isn’t always bad.  It drives us to want to be better: get better jobs, buy that first home, and live the American Dream.  It’s what drove me to want to go to college,  get a job (although completely unrelated to what I learned in school), and to be able to retire early at age 48.  Had I just lived without any ambition, not caring at all what others were doing, I would not be here today.  

Comparing ourselves to others becomes a poison, however, when you’ve reached a certain point in your life or in your career where you can start to enjoy your life, to start to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Instead of feeling grateful for what you’ve already accomplished, many of us just can’t stop comparing to others in a never ending battle to be the best among our family, friends and colleagues.

Growing up, I hated family gatherings.  Instead of cousins getting together and having mindless fun, adults would always bring up topics like grades, what schools we were going to, what career paths we were thinking, or where we were going on vacation.  None of these applied to me, as I didn’t get good grades, I had no idea what I wanted to be at that age, nor where we were going on vacation, as we couldn’t afford a vacation.

Family was the worst when it comes to constant comparing.  Friends, colleagues, and acquaintances come pretty close.  When I was growing up, some of my friends would brag about a new Walkman they bought, or the latest fancy sneakers they bought.  Even after we become adults, this never ends.  Colleagues and acquaintances will constantly remind you where they went on their vacations, what new toys they’ve purchased, or what schools their kids got accepted into.

As I started to embrace the whole idea of FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement and minimalism, these constant chatter to one up each other lost their appeal.  I no longer felt the need to brag about my latest purchases, my career promotion, or my latest vacation.  I was content with my being, feeling good about what I had, and about what I was going to accomplish.

My goal was to retire early, to stop the madness of the rat race, and to be liberated from trying to compare myself to others.  In took roughly 38 years of my life to get there, but when I finally did, it was so liberating!

I no longer cared what others did, I no longer cared where others went on their vacations, and I no longer cared what fancy car they bought.  It was a good place to be in for the first time in my life…I lived my own way, not caring what others did, feeling content with myself and most importantly, feeling happy.  

Here are some of my thoughts and recommendations on how to stop comparing yourself to others so you can live a happier life:

  • How much is enough?
This is perhaps the toughest question to answer for most people.  If you’re never satisfied with what you have, then how do you know when you’ve actually had enough???

Constantly wanting more is counterproductive once you get to a certain point.  A millionaire is something most of us will never be, but if you’re the type of person who’s never satisfied, then does being a billionaire actually enough?

Remember in life, there’s always someone better, richer, and smarter than you!  The quicker you figure this out, the happier you’ll be.  Instead of always looking up at the Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffetts of the world who are impossibly rich, figure out what you actually need for your retirement.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics report, in the year 2021, the average household led by someone 65 or older spent about $52000 per year.  With this number in mind, you can start planning for your retirement.

If you think you can live on less than that per year, then you can go easier on the accelerator.  If you think you need double that amount, then you’ll want to keep your foot down on the accelerator and go full pedal to the metal.

It’s good to want more but figuring out when you have enough is very important.  I mean, you wouldn’t eat until your stomach blows up at a buffet do you?  You wouldn’t want to exercise so much that you’re destroying your body either.

There’s always a right balance in life and in just about everything we do.  Just like you wouldn’t eat yourself to death or exercise yourself to death, you’ll want to find that right balance.  
  • Find a good loving partner
There’s nothing quite like finding someone you can trust, love, and care about.  If that person decides to marry you, then even better!

It’s been proven that couples who are married have significantly more assets than someone who’s single.  I couldn’t agree more.  I had zero assets when I married my wife, but she still took a chance on me so we can make something of our lives together.  

Starting from that point forward, we ended up retiring early thanks to our “DINK” (dual income no kid) lifestyle, FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement, and minimalism.  I couldn’t have done it without my wife, who supported me throughout the years.  Sure, we had our ups and downs like everyone, but our bond got stronger as we safely made it out of those turbulent times, together.

When you have a good, loving partner, there’s no longer a need to compare yourself with others.  As long as you’re happy, then why does it matter whether or not others are happy or not happy in their own marriages?  

Find that special someone who will grow old with you, and who will stay with you through the thick and thin…
  • Find happiness within
I’ve always talked about finding and appreciating life through the little things.  Find solace in taking soul nurturing walks or hikes through parks, enjoy watching rain fall, talk and plan your future with your significant other, etc.

There are so many great things you can do to find happiness all around you.  Take a moment in your day to appreciate what you’ve accomplished, or take a moment to do something that brings you joy, like listening to your favorite music or binge watching your favorite shows.

Nothing can make you happy (not “happy” pills, drugs, money, or status).  You have to find it within to live a happy life.  I find it useful to always look at life as a long game.  There will be trials and tribulations, but they shall all pass…

I also find it useful to always plan contingency plans for everything.  If Plan A doesn’t work out, then I’ll try Plan B, C, or D.  Because life doesn’t work out how you think it should, it’s good to have a backup plan so you’re not unprepared!

Good case in point:  When I got fired from a sales consultant position at a BMW dealership after moving back to the East Coast, I first tried to contact everyone I knew at the time to try to get a job.  When that didn’t work out, I studied and updated my computer skills so I can get back into the IT(Information Technology) field.  After submitting over 100 resumes, I got the call for an interview at the company that would allow me to retire early!

Had I not had a Plan B after getting fired, I may still be selling cars somewhere today…
  • Be selfish
I’ve seen too many people ruin their lives co-signing for loans for friends, relatives, acquaintances.  I’ve seen too many lose money by lending money to friends and relatives.  I’ve seen too many people doing things they don’t want to do just to fit in or just so the other person doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

At times like these, be selfish.  Don’t ever co-sign a loan unless it’s your kids, lend money unless you don’t need that back, or be in a position where someone expects you to do something (pay tuition for nieces/nephews, or a coworker dumping work on you).  

It may be uncomfortable at that time, but that too shall pass.  Be firm and think about yourself.  There are just too many people out there who will take advantage of you if you’re not firm!
  • Embrace minimalism 
When you embrace minimalism, buying things whether you’re buying it for your enjoyment or to impress others, loses its luster, appeal, and excitement.  We got rid of close to 90% of our belongings the month we retired (August 2020) and have been living on less since then.

It has freed our minds from the shackles of rampant consumption and mindless mimicry, trying to look like, trying to live like, or trying to feel like someone else.  If we didn’t care what others thought about us before embracing minimalism, then we really didn’t care after embracing minimalism.

We no longer cared to go to neighborhood get-togethers where people try to one-up each other, bragging about their latest toys, or their latest exotic but always expensive vacations.  It got old real fast the more we got together. 

Not going to those get-togethers was a great decision we made while we were trying to accumulate wealth and trying to retire early. 
  • Do your own thing, not caring what others think
Finding something you’re passionate about and going about doing it will set you free from worrying or caring what others say or think about you.  Set a goal to reach financial independence, try to look great by lifting weights, or follow your lifelong goal to learn a new skill whether that’s a musical instrument, a new language, or martial arts.

Being passionate about something is great for your mental wellbeing.  On top of that, don’t underestimate the high you’ll get when you start to see improvements at whatever endeavor you’re doing.

The more you do your own thing, the less you’ll care about what others are doing or saying.  Be confident in yourself, learn to love yourself, and take pride in yourself.  One easy way to accomplish that is by doing something you’re passionate about!
  • Be grateful for what you have
The glass half full analogy is something we live by.  There are so many ills in the world with millions starving, trying to survive in a war torn country (Ukraine, Syria), or living without a reliable source of drinking water.

Compared to that, we’re living carefree in the USA, not worrying about food, shelter, or safety.  It’s so easy to complain, to feel entitled and act out accordingly.  But I’ll tell you this:  how many entitled people look happy?  They’re usually angry at everyone and everything.  That’s not the way I want to live.

Life is too short to squander away this one opportunity to live our lives.  On average, people will live to be around 80 years old, and that is way too short.  Stop complaining and try to live a happier, healthier lives.

Be thankful for what you do have.  It’ll go a long way…

In conclusion:

Comparing ourselves to others is something we’re all born with.  It helps us to understand our role in our society and it helps us to fit in.  It’s what motivates us to be better at something whether that’s sports, money, love, or status.

As important as this trait may be, at some point this seemingly harmless behavior will morph us into something we may not be proud of.  Constantly comparing what others have achieved will burn you out, make you unhappy, and stressed out.

Make the conscious effort (and choice) to break from that mindset when you’ve reached a certain point.  Practice the mindset of living with enough.  Find something you’re passionate about, embrace minimalism, and think selfishly at times.

We all have this one short life to live.  Live the way you wanted to, not constantly worried or stressed about what others are doing.  Isn’t your health (mind and body) more important than money, status, or promotion?

Thank you for reading and go find your happiness!


Jake

Wandering Money Pig 





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