We like to compare ourselves to others (self-comparison). Are we good enough or are we falling behind? We constantly judge ourselves and our own worth. Objective evaluations, like grades in school, force us to be compared to others. But we should not judge ourselves from the grades we get or from the accomplishments we achieve. We are more than that.
Why do we compare ourselves to others? In our daily lives, we often have no objective criteria for evaluating how well we are doing, so we compare ourselves to others to find out how we are doing, according to self-comparison theory.
We may also evaluate ourselves to find out whether we are good enough to be a part of a given group. We are social animals after all, and we like to conform behaviors: it is our biological disposition which serves the purpose of grouping and evolutionary survival.
Upward comparisons is when we compare ourselves to others who are better than we are at a given task. Downward comparisons is when we compare ourselves to others who are inferior at a given task. There are no objective measures of success because success is what we define it to be: comparisons help us to get an idea of how successful we are.
Here are three principles which I believe can help us gain a sense of inner peace:
1. New perspective on the “self”
The “self” is what we compare to others. We should decrease our feelings of a static sense of self by detaching ourselves from the idea we have of ourselves. Mental processes, experiences and memories, lead us to expect that the self is a constant entity. The essence of Buddhism is that there is no such thing as an unchanging self.
Techniques in meta-awareness, which is a key element in happiness in Buddhist philosophy, help us gain a new perspective on the self. This new perspective “… results in less afflictive experience and the freedom to experience a more genuine way of being” (p. 547).
2. Appreciate yourself
Instead of comparing ourselves to others to measure our worthiness, we should appreciate what we have and find value in ourselves, the things we have, and what we do.
It is the little achievements day in and day out that build up our capacity to be successful (i.e., self-efficacy). In this sense, little achievements are what define us, and success is just the acknowledgement of our daily efforts.
Our competences are constantly developing, and goals can be achieved with the right amount of effort. So instead of focusing on goals, we should focus on improving ourselves, and as a result, goals are likely to be fulfilled.
We cannot compare what we have (or do) with what others have (or do) because we attribute different meanings to actions and objects: What I believe is right or beautiful is not necessarily right or beautiful from your perspective.
3. Focus on values instead of goals
Your values are unique to you so no one can judge your values. Here are five key aspects of values: Values are: (1) focused on the here and now, (2) they need no justification, (3) they sometimes need to be prioritized, (4) they should be simple, and (5) they are chosen freely (reference).
In contrast to goals, values can be performed in the here and now. You can choose to be a good friend (goal) by acting in accordance with your own idea of a good friend. Your idea of a good friend represents your values, e.g. to be trustworthy, sympathetic etc. In this way, values can be implemented in your life right away.
Values need no justification. It is your values, not someone else’s values. We cannot judge a person’s values because they are a part of his idea of a meaningful life. My idea of a good life is, most likely, different from yours, so I cannot say that you are wrong and I am right.
Values sometimes need to be prioritized. For example, if someone threatens you, you cannot live in accordance with your value of being polite. In this situation, your value of self-protection gets prioritized over being polite, however, this does not mean that your value of being polite is not existing.
Values should be simple: they serve the purpose of guidance, they are not strict rules. At last, values are chosen freely. We do not need to act in accordance with our values, but we choose to do so as they are important to us.
In this article, I have described some of the principles I use to gain a sense of inner peace. Whenever I begin to compare myself to others, I deliberately stop myself. What do you do to find inner peace? Feel free to leave a comment.