If You Want to Be Happy, Don’t Compare Yourself With Others

comparingThroughout this year I’ve been doing an ongoing series of blog posts on the topic of gratitude. I want to continue that discussion by looking at one of the main barriers to gratefulness, which is our compulsive tendency to compare ourselves to others.

All too often, the possessions, lifestyle, wealth and opportunities of those around us create the baseline for what we expect to be normal, with the tragic result that we often only feel grateful for blessings that raise us above that baseline. If we compared ourselves to those throughout history, we would see that we have enormous grounds for gratitude, but instead we tend to compare ourselves to those around us.

The research on this is overwhelming, so I will limit myself to just a few of the many studies that have been conducted.

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Censorship and Hysteria: Two Sides of the Same Coin

When presented with the challenges of Islam, it seems that the tendency within Western culture is to continually vacillate between trying to make the Muslim a community completely beyond critique, on the one hand, and a knee-jerk hysteria of any and all Muslims, on the other. It seems that the former creates enough public frustration that the latter becomes an inevitable consequence. If this is true then it is in the best interest of the Muslim community to start encouraging the type of robust debate that so many of them have been trying to suppress. Here is an article I wrote a while go for Christian Voice about the suppression of free speech in Britain that has happened under the banner of tolerance towards Islam (but which has nothing to do with true tolerance).

American Pragmatism and Mathematics

300px-Japanclass

In Japanese classrooms, the emphasis is more on conceptual understanding than simply memorizing skills

In their book The Teaching Gap, James Stigler and James Hiebert discuss the differences between how math is taught in American classrooms vs. Japanese classrooms. Their observations were based on extensive video footage of eight-grade classrooms in both countries (plus Germany) in research aimed to identify general teaching patterns and differences. Was there a specifically American way of teaching that might help to explain why American is lagging behind other nations in math scores?

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Dorotheos of Gaza on Not Rendering Evil for Evil

From Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses & Sayings, pp. 152-153:

Dorotheos of Gaza“There is a way of rendering evil for evil not only in actions but also in words and in attitude. A man may not seem to render evil for evil by what he does, but he is found, as I say, to do so in word or in his attitude [general behavior]. For there are times when a person, either by his attitude, his movements, or his looks, disturbs his brother – and does so on purpose – and this is to render evil for evil. Another man may not render evil for evil, by deeds or words or attitude or movement, but he is wounded at heart and harbors resentment against his brother Another man may have no complaint against his brother, but if he hears that someone has annoyed him or if at some time someone murmurs against him or reviles him, he is glad when he hears it; then ti is clear that he too is rendering evil for evil in his heart. Another man may not cling to evil and not be glad when someone who has annoyed him is reviled and may rather himself be annoyed if he has caused annoyance, and yet he is not glad when something good happens to his brother and if he sees him praised or at rest he is displeased – even this is a kind of rancor though it is less serious. Finally there is the man who wants to rejoice that his brother is at rest, does all he can to be of service to him, and arranges everything to promote his progress and tranquility.”

Women and the Draft: I Sometimes Hate Being Right

American female fighter

Women will likely have to register for the draft, Army Secretary says

I read in the news today that U.S. military Army Secretary, John McHugh, said earlier this week that there is a likelihood that women will eventually have to register for the draft in order for “true and pure equality” is to be realized.

This is one of those situations where it doesn’t feel good to say “I told you so”. But I predicted this three years ago in my Salvo article ‘Mixed Companies: Women in Combat, Feminism & Misogyny.’ Thankfully, this particular Salvo article is available online so you don’t even have to subscribe to our wonderful magazine to read it. (Still, we strongly encourage you to subscribe so you can read all the other excellent articles.)

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Resources on Brain Plasticity

One of the fascinating things I’ve been reading about is that the wiring of our brain, even among the middle-aged and elderly, is not fixed, but is malleable, flexible, and constantly adapting to the choices we make about how to use our brain. Here are some resources about this topic followed by a fascinating video interview with Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself.

Stages in Habituation

search inside yourselfIn Chade-Meng Tan book Search Inside Yourself, he explains the stages a person passes through before a new state of mind becomes habituated and therefore natural.

Meng’s observations are consistent with what I’ve read elsewhere, particularly in Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself and Joshua Foer’s book Moonwalking With Einstein.

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Life is Difficult

From my blog post ‘Viktor Frankl on Reframing Suffering‘:

“Only when we accept that life is difficult, only when we come to terms with the fact that we have no right to be comfortable, happy or prosperous, can we truly be grateful. For once we have accepted that life is difficult and suffering is normal, we can begin to perceive any small amount of joy or comfort as pure gift, like the prisoners in the concentration camp were able to do when they saw a sunset. This suggests not merely that gratitude and suffering can co-exist, but that without suffering it is hard to ever develop a disposition of true gratitude. When life is too easy, we take our blessings for granted; we cease to view the basic necessities of life—warmth, food, shelter and friends—as pure gift…Revolting against our hardships can take the form of bitterness, or it can take the form of passivity and hopelessness. In both cases, it is a missed opportunity. The opportunity we miss is the chance to accept our suffering as opportunities for spiritual growth.”