The Happiness Chase

Chasing Happiness

I recently caved into one of my not-so-proud-of neuroses of assessing how I stack up compared with others. How happy am I compared with others? How successful am I compared with others? Who has babies? (I don’t and want them badly.) Who still looks good and how do I look in comparison?

It doesn’t get pretty from here. In spite of my better judgment, I succumbed. I looked up an old boyfriend from my twenties, and, in doing so, discovered that he was way ahead of me (in the traditional sense): more awards, more successful in his career and more kids than me (he’s a proud father of two).

The bummer is that I had been “ahead of him” (again, in the traditional sense) when we dated. When we met, I was a recent graduate of Stanford and about to head to a masters program at Brown; he was a recent graduate of University of Washington. I was coming off of international work stints in Mexico and West Africa, a glamorous job working on the Hill in Washington, DC, and was the current director of a youth leadership organization noted by the Points of Lights Foundation; he was painting houses and waiting tables. The tables have turned – and, well, I can’t help but feel a little envious.

There’s a term for this. Researchers call this well-documented, all-too-human tendency the Hedonic Treadmill, coined over 30 years ago by Brickman and Campbell in a research paper titled “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.” In the game of trying to compete and outdo our fellow human beings, we’re never rich enough, successful enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, and the list goes on. Even when we win something, the thrill lasts for a flash. All too quickly, we adapt and the good news becomes old news.

Not to say that I’m over it (I’m not), but there are a few things that have helped to get off the compare-myself-with-others treadmill:

  • Tell myself (over and over again) that I really do have enough, right now.
  • Notice – and NAME – the good things in my life (like, hello, I just had my first book published, I am engaged to the most handsome man in the world, and I have the most awesome family and friends I could ever ask for).
  • Simply breathe and with each inhale, breathe (and think), “Peace.” With each exhale, breathe (and think), “Love.”

Nothing new and way too corny for my sarcastic, over-educated self to embrace. But, oddly enough, it’s actually working. 


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Comments (4)

    — I love this! The most powerful happiness/ spiritual practice I have found is gratitude. It's so important to remind ourselves of all our blessings, and not get caught up in the "shoulditis" of where we think we are "supposed" to be in life. Thank you for sharing! MeiMei
    — I LOVE This! Although it is really difficult, I work really hard to remind myself what my junior high and high school coach instilled in me at the age of 12 - don't compare yourselves to others as it will only paralyze you. Seek instead to be the very best YOU can be and nothing more and nothing less. It certainly worked in sports and when I remember his words, it works great in life too.

    Laura, you are an incredible friend, speaker, educator and motivator. You better your best every time I've had the pleasure of being in your presence. Please enjoy the journey and keep moving forward at your pace.
    — You are a beautiful soul Laura. Julie G
    — Laura, thank you for the honesty, humility and vulnerability that allows us to relate and feel relieved that we are not the only one doing this.
    I want to add another side to consider...and maybe it's coming from the male competitive side of me or maybe just a need to justify my own behaviors but consider the option of "healthy competition". Whether we are competing with ourselves or with others, I think of athletes who want to improve their time or swim faster than their opponent. They are striving for better. I work out in a classroom with others and have to admit, I usually push myself more as I see others doing something versus if I was by myself and just accepting enough is enough. I like to be pushed to be better and appreciate my mentors who believe in me when I settling for less.
    So I hope somewhere in the middle I occasionally find that healthy blend of self-satisfaction and striving to be more. Truth be told, the scale usually tips more heavily in one of those directions and it takes a special friend like you to remind me that life is not about perfect balance but how we respond when we are off balance :)

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