The root of much unhappiness is comparison. Comparison gets in the way of healthy self-appreciation — and thus happiness — more than anything else. Because of comparison, hardly anybody is ever happy with what they get and nothing’s ever good enough for practically everybody. That’s because we measure our success in anything by comparing it to what others have or to what we have had before. In other words, whether you are happy with what you get depends on how it measures up to some norm. That norm depends on two things: what other people get (social comparison), and what you yourself are used to getting (habituation). It is hard for success in any form (money, status, prestige, and so on) to improve your happiness because as actual success rises, the norm by which success is judged rises in step.

A study, for instance, found Olympic bronze medalists to be happier than silver medalists. The bronze medalists, it turns out, tended to compare themselves with all the people who competed but won no medal at all, while the silver medalists compared themselves with the gold medal winners and tortured themselves with the belief that they could have — should have — won the gold. Similarly, in families, it has been found that the more your spouse earns, the less satisfied you are with your own job.


Because we constantly compare ourselves to others, we don’t feel good about what we have and who we are. The grass seems perennially greener in your neighbor’s lawn. Continuing with this metaphor, it might be said that the grass always seems to be greener in your neighbor’s yard because (1) you’re urinating on your own lawn and (2) you’re looking at your neighbor’s lawn from your lawn, and everything looks better from a distance. There is only one solution to this “grass is greener” problem: practicing self-appreciation. Self-appreciation involves both staying off of other people’s lawns and taking care of your own.


Appreciate Your Own Lawn


A key ingredient in happiness is appreciating your life as it is. You can do this by keeping an appreciation log. Just list the positive aspects of things in your life. List the positive aspects of what you have and what you appreciate about your life and the people in it. And be sure to make a list of what you appreciate about yourself. Do this at least once a week — every day is even better. Science has found that the benefits of being grateful are optimized when you focus on appreciation at least once a week. This exercise isn’t about wearing rose-colored glasses as much as it is about appreciating what’s worthy of appreciation. Some things are just bad. If you can’t change them, learn to accept them.


When you’re feeling particularly frustrated, jealous, or hopeless, see if you can’t sit down and write out a list of things you appreciate about your current situation. By doing so, you’ll come to the realization that you have enough and do enough already. And when you do decide to get or do more, it will come from a positive, healthy, loving, inspired place instead of a dark, negative, and unhealthy bottomless pit.


To fully appreciate yourself and your life, you have to ignore what others think of you, what others have, and what others do. Only your thoughts influence your happiness. Others’ thoughts of you do not affect your happiness. Only your thoughts about their thoughts affect how you feel. Only your thoughts about what they have and what they do influence your feelings of well-being. You can change your thoughts and you can’t change theirs. What others think, say, do, or have has nothing to do with you.


The only opinion in the entire universe that is of importance to you is your own. And your opinion affects your entire life. Nobody else needs to get what you’re doing or agree with it. So replace your shopping sprees, working sprees, pleasure sprees, complaining sprees, and unhappiness sprees with an appreciation spree. Shop for things to appreciate about your life and yourself, not for things to purchase or improve. Never admire somebody else’s fortune so much that you become dissatisfied with your own.



Robert Mack is the author of Happiness from the Inside Out. He is the resident life coach for Miami Life Center, of Travel & Leisure’s top twenty-five health and wellness centers. Visit him online at


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Excerpted with permission from Happiness from the Inside Out  © 2009 by Robert Mack. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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