How Relative Thinking Hurts Us

July 17, 2015 by John Andrew Williams

Comparison Quote

Imagine someone just realized a dream of having his own pool. It’s beautiful. It’s a huge 30 meter pool. He loves his pool and couldn’t be happier.

Then his neighbor invites him over and she shows him her new 40 meter pool.

Suddenly his 30 meter pool isn’t a 30 meter pool anymore. It’s a pool 10 meters smaller than his neighbor’s. He just made the jump from 30 to -10. If he doesn’t find something to be thankful for, and fast, he is going to fall into the trap of relative poverty.

The chance to experience relative poverty and think in relative ways is everywhere. The media – willingly and unwillingly – promotes it: followers, likes, magazine covers, status updates of awesome vacations. From 1st grade, when those first progress reports are generated, students are ranked and separated by ability in relation to peers. Even 1st graders can give a general consensus on who the smart and dumb kids are.

This relative thinking trap only continues as students get older. High schools and colleges actually go so far as to create an exact rank out of your whole class, just in case you missed the memo from grade school.

Relative poverty and thinking in terms of ranking are both deeply ingrained in society and in our psyche from a young age.

It takes mindfulness and gratitude to not fall into the trap.

Practicing gratitude has been shown to increase positive emotion and improve people’s overall well-being. It was also been linked to increases in empathy, improved sleep, and increased energy levels.

It really is amazing how the process of reflecting on the things one is thankful for can boost one’s ability to overcome the negative.

So take a moment to reflect for yourself. Push aside all those comparisons and relative thoughts, and embrace the things that you are thankful for in your life right now.

Also read: Why Grandparents Rock (and Why it Matters to the Future of Education)

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