Unlike in sports, there is no real scoreboard for life. We can’t look up at any one moment and know, objectively, how well we are doing. Many times you may wonder how your life stacks up by comparing yourself to others. However, studies have shown that making these social comparisons may lead to negative emotions. The platform of social media has especially been linked to depressive symptoms because the context is primed for people to compare their accomplishments to that of their friends.
In fact, the only real metric by which most people compare is financial success. Think about it for a second, what’s the sign of a successful book, movie, or sports contract? Books are defined by the number of copies sold, a movie by its box office revenue, and a sports contract by the salary. This is also true in day-to-day life. We often evaluate an opportunity based on its financial reward and we evaluate ourselves on our ability to earn money and spend that money on material things. To quote the film Jerry Maguire, we define success simply by asking the universe to “show me the money.”
Does money or financial success help us to feel like we are winning? No.
Consider this study conducted by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton where they looked for indicators of psychological well-being in nearly half a million randomly selected American citizens. Their findings were profound as the research indicated once our basic needs are met, our happiness tends to plateau.
We tend to define success by money, yet money does not equal happiness. It seems we have driven our lives into a crossroads: is success defined by money or by happiness? I say, it’s time to walk off-road and make your own path.
You are likely to be winning at life if you incorporate three important practices into your daily routine. Without further delay, here they are:
Gratitude as a life orientation goes beyond the appreciation that arises after help from others. Research has found that gratitude is strongly associated with psychological well-being when it is practiced as a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive in the world. When you make the decision to emphasize gratitude, there is little room left for feelings of jealousy or envy. As quoted by the Zen Shin practice of meditation, “A flower does not think of comparing itself to the flower next to it. It just blooms.”
The quality of our relationships does not just impact our daily lives but also our long-term well-being. Dr. Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, supported this notion with findings from research that began in 1938 with 268 Harvard sophomores but has now expanded to include their offspring and has amassed data from over 1,300 participants. One critical finding was how the role of relationships played in our overall health. The people who were happiest in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Furthermore, Dr. Waldinger went as far as to state, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
3. Pursuit of Meaning
The Journal of Positive Psychology recently published two studies that tracked 400 Americans who fell into two groups: high happiness/low meaning levels and low happiness/high meaning levels. Characteristics of the “happy” group included avoidance of taxing entanglements. On the other hand, the “meaning” group spent more time helping others and focused on family or relationships. The study explains that the pursuit of meaning lends to a belief that one’s life matters. That purpose can foster life satisfaction. These studies reinforce the important roles that gratitude and quality relationships play in a “winning” life.
So when you’re looking for a scorecard on your life, don’t look at your salary, the size of your house, or the brand of your car. Instead, look inward towards your ability to enjoy your relationships and activities. That way, you’ll always win.