Happiness, by Comparison

How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy. –Marcus Aurelius

Comparison is the death of joy. –Mark Twain


A thought experiment for your consideration:

You’re in Vegas, playing a Wheel of Fortune slot machine.  You “invest” $20 in the machine, and on your third play, you hear the words, “Wheel.  Of.  Fortune!”  You hit the spin button (with your elbow, of course, for good luck).  The $500 bonus comes up!  High fives all around!  You decide to cash out.

While you tell your buddies about your big win, another patron sits at your machine.  She plays a few rounds, and suddenly, “Wheel. Of.  Fortune!” comes up for her.  Curious, you and your buddies watch to see what she gets.  This time, the spin hits the progressive jackpot.  She just won $1.4 million!

Are you still happy about your $500, or disappointed that you didn’t win the $1.4 million?

Let’s change the outcome a bit.  Imagine her spin yields a bonus of only $50.  Are you happier about your $500 than you were when she won $1.4 million?

Be honest.

In a world with billions of people, there’s always someone who:

wins more, runs faster, is taller, richer, prettier, better, loses more, runs slower, is shorter, uglier, or worse

than you.

How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy. –Marcus Aurelius  

Happiness often becomes a game of teeter-totter.  Something we can only experience in comparison to someone else.  It’s a process fueled by envy.  Envy, which takes all the power we will give it.  It simultaneously feeds on the joy of others and rips at the happiness of its host in the process.

Imagine if your happiness had nothing to do with what happens to someone else?

Here’s the good news.  You get to try it anytime you want.


Author: Bob Dailey

Born and raised in Southern California. Graduated from (and met my future wife at) Cal Poly Pomona, in 1988. Married to Janet almost 30 years. Father of two: Julianne and Jennifer. Grandfather of 5 (soon to be 6)! Held many positions in small, medium, and large companies. Trail runner, competitive stair climber, backpacker, camper, off-roader, world traveler, sometimes writer.

One thought on “Happiness, by Comparison”

  1. Love the experiment. I would hope to still be happy, after-all it was my decision to walk away with my winnings then but human nature has that crazy envy thing. It is true, we would do well if we chose to stop comparing ourselves to others and instead focus on our own blessings.

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