How often we assess our assets or liabilities by an arbitrary yardstick. Maybe it’s our finances, or our looks, or perhaps our health. It could be the status of our relationships, or lack thereof. We tend to see ourselves in comparison to others, as well as in comparison to our hopes or expectations for ourselves.
What do we accomplish by judging ourselves by such a yardstick? Does doing so spur us on towards achievement? Or does it contribute to shame and guilt that we do not measure up? Whose yardstick are we using? Our mother’s? Our father’s? Our best friend’s? Or is it our wife’s or husband’s yardstick by which we judge ourselves?
For many of us, we see public figures and have feelings about how we compare to them. We may bemoan our belief that we aren’t as successful, happy or attractive as the people we look up to in this way. Or we might gloat that at least we don’t have a life as filled with unmanageability and disaster as a movie star with many unhappy marriages or a prominent substance abuse problem.
In recovery there are a few pithy slogans worth using by anyone:
- Identify, don’t compare
- Compare and despair
- Don’t compare your insides to anyone else’s outsides
The idea is that we will do far better to see what we have in common with others than to assess whether we are better or worse than they are on any given scale. When we identify, we may feel more empathy and kindness towards others, rather than feeling either smugly superior or sheepishly less-than. The more we hold another up to ourselves in comparison, the more likely we will feel we fall short. This is in part due to the fact that we know our own shortcomings and deficiencies intimately, whereas we see the best put-together façade the other can possibly put forward.
The half glass of abundance is more than enough when you need less than half a glass. A huge glass half full is more abundant than a tiny glass filled to the brim. What do you need? Can you get what you need through your own efforts or by asking for help? When you keep your needs reasonable and your aims realistic, you will be more likely to have a sense of contentment than if you harbor intense and extreme needs and if you aim for the impossible.
How do we know when we have enough and when we need to keep striving for more of anything, be it love, money, material possessions, power, or acclaim? The answer is a complex one. A monk has his bowl, a robe and perhaps a warm, dry place to lay his head. Anything beyond this may be seen as luxury. Most of us will not live a monastic life, but learning to be content with less can be a gift. During the Great Depression and into WWII, this phrase was popular, and we would do well in this age of diminishing resources to consider it.
Use it Up
Or wear it out,
Make it do
Or do without
Life is short, much shorter than we realize, so let’s see what we can do with what we have. It is far more important who we are than what we have. Our principles and values determine our thoughts, intentions and actions. Living wisely, and helping others to do the same may be the only lasting legacy we leave. Our memory will live on in the minds of our descendants long after our bodies have returned to the earth. Will we be remembered for the good we did, the life we lived, or the things we acquired?
As for me, I am trying each day, imperfectly but sincerely, to live by the Eight Noble Truths. More about them next time!