Q When my friends and I get together, I notice that we have a tendency to talk a fair amount about our accomplishments and financial success. We are all upward mobile in different ways and, at times, the atmosphere among us can get quite competitive. We also tend to brag about our children’s achievements at school or how talented they are. Some of us are pretty hard on ourselves when we aren’t doing as well or are as happy as our friends seem to be. My wife and I have friends who are definitely more “successful” than we are—taking great vacations and looking really fit. We find ourselves feeling jealous or resentful, feeling that we ought to work harder or they just seem to be luckier.

A Comparing ourselves with others, even those closest to us, is a common dilemma for most people. Families, cultures, and societies have particular ways in which they define what success and happiness are. Much of it is focused around material accomplishments. We are all subject to those standards and to some degree try to fit into them. Some people are born with more privilege than others—gender, race, socioeconomic means, access to education, beauty, innate intelligence, and class. We are not all born equal. This naturally creates feelings of unfairness and resentment.

Try to remember that sometimes those who look the happiest and most together are actually the most confused and troubled internally. There is often a desire to make things look good from the outside rather than deal with the sense of deficiency, fear, or emptiness inside oneself. One never knows what’s really going in another’s personal life.

Ultimately, happiness and success are individual matters. Most of us don’t even really know what makes us happy. Therefore, that’s where our energy needs to go. What do we really want to do with our lives? It would be interesting to pose that question to your friends next time you get together. Will people go deeper than financial success and outer accomplishments?

In order to meet the expectations that we are raised with or to be accepted by our peers, we forget what we want or what our personal goals are. This makes us feel insecure, and looking outward for satisfaction and happiness. Let us be willing to look at how we compensate and defend against feeling weak or inadequate. Then we can get closer to what we deeply value. Instead of asking who has more, let us ask what is really important to us. Living the answer to this question makes life more meaningful and satisfying. This is difficult, but worth working towards.

I recommend reading two books by Robert A. Johnson, who has spent many winters in India studying Indian philosophy and life. The titles are Contentmentand Inner Gold.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

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