Social Question

idream3r's avatar

How to stop thinking about other peoples lives?

Asked by idream3r (434points) June 24th, 2016

Have you ever wished you had certain things or lived a certain lifestyle? I often do. I think too much about what other people have and what other people are doing.

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20 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

The best way that I know is the practice of “mindfulness”, as others call it. That is, being present in the here-and-now, aware – as conscious and aware as you can be – of your own current surroundings and actuality, and practicing the concept of being grateful “for what is”, rather than envious of “what is not”.

It’s fine to dream, and in fact it is necessary to a point, in order to make plans, to develop the discipline to keep working toward a goal – without a dream of a potentially better (or at least different) future, then there would be no way to make a plan for that future. And without a plan for the future it would be difficult to do anything beyond whatever it is that you’re doing right now.

But you can’t live in those dreams, and if you let them become too grand, without any connection with what is around you right now and likely to be around you tomorrow, next week, next year, then it’s easy to become envious of your imaginary future. In addition to that, we often see of others only what we want to see: the trappings of their success, for example, without a full appreciation of the years of struggle and hardship that might have preceded that (apparent) success.

As Voltaire said so well in Candide, “We must all tend our own garden.”

Tend your garden.

stanleybmanly's avatar

My problem is that just as I begin swooning into “lifestyles of the rich” fantasies, some guy will cross my line of sight with his belongings in a shopping cart. I then nod skyward to notify the gods that I get the hint. And it’s back to work.

Seek's avatar

I’m often torn between the desire to have a nicer house and a well-paying 9–5, and selling everything and packing it in to buy an RV and live off of busking and selling macrame and tie-dye to hippies at music festivals.

And therein lies the problem. Would having more make me happy? or would having less? Does it matter either way? Probably not.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Happiness matters! I’m not sure about the merits of chasing it. I suppose the goal should be contentment. Happiness seems transitory

CWOTUS's avatar

I agree that happiness matters. But what “happiness seekers” never realize – probably can never realize – is that you can’t seek it. It’s not a goal of its own. If you can’t carry it with you, if it doesn’t already reside inside of you, then you can’t find it. Anywhere.

That may be a depressing thought to people who have chased it for a long time. However, the corollary is that all it takes is a change of mind to realize that it’s already – always – inside of you anyway, waiting for you to have that realization.

When I first had these realizations on my own (as I started to wonder why others who seem to have more than I aren’t already happy, for example), I didn’t credit them. Then when I started to read it from others on the internet and elsewhere I discounted it all as New Age Bullshit.

However, I have since read more or less scientific studies of happiness with respect to such disparate life outcomes as victims of accidents which have left previously active and healthy (and happy) people as paraplegics, versus unhappy winners of lottery grand prizes. The surprising thing is that after a necessary and expected period of adjustment, people who had previously been happily active and were now paraplegic… were still happy (or had managed to regain that sense of happiness in life, despite their injury), and people who had considered themselves unhappy prior to winning the lottery… were again unhappy, even if they were still rich.

This is not to say that I want to become a paraplegic and test this theory. But I would not be at all surprised to find that the proud owner of a stolen shopping cart with all of his life’s belongings may, in fact, be happier than many folks would realize.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The thing that puzzles me is that for all my whining,.
complaining, and dreary cynicism, people consistently mistake me for a cheerful person. Are you happy if others tell you you are?

zenvelo's avatar

@CWOTUS Nailed it for me. Happiness is a byproduct, not an achievable goal in and of itself.

One way to gain an appreciation for one’s life is to develop a gratitude practice. Each evening, write down three things you are grateful for that day. It is not always easy, especially of your day was difficult. And it may seem like it is a silly aphorism, but one can always find something to be grateful for.

Waking up to another day is always one. What ever freedom your body has is another. An appreciation for nature or the weather is also there.

I started this practice two years ago. It really reframes my outlook.

CWOTUS's avatar

Hmmm … since @stanleybmanly has raised the issue of cheerfulness, maybe we should start to define our terms.

To me, happiness is a sort of being at peace with the world as it is or as it is perceived, which may or may not include feelings of satisfaction and contentment. (And of course one’s view of the world may be so skewed that it always appears to be a wonderful and magical place – more wonderful and magical than it actually is, to be sure.) It may also include – and in my case certainly does include – a general optimism that even if things don’t get better (as I expect they will eventually), they’re not going south at a rate that is hopelessly out of control. Cheerfulness is a sort of outward manifestation of good will and happiness at least of the moment. It is occasionally an act; it’s easy enough for a decent actor to fake cheerfulness. I don’t even know how to fake happiness, which is more of a state of being.

So, while I am only rarely “satisfied” with things, either the things that I have, the things that I have done or the things around me, I can be content for long periods of time with the feeling that “things could be better, but they’re not so bad right now.” And though people might think of me from many of my writings in this forum, to name one place, as a surly, grouchy, grumpy old man which I will admit isn’t far off the mark, I’m usually quite happy, even if not cheerful. It’s easy to fake a lack of good cheer, too.

Real cheerfulness doesn’t always seem to last, but happiness, again, judging only from my own perspective, is long term.

I also like @zenvelo‘s suggestion to consider things to be grateful for. Even on the worst of days, there is something:
– It’s raining like hell, but I will soon be inside and dry again.
– I’m hungry, but I have food in the fridge and a great meal planned.
– I’m broke, and the baby is crying, but tomorrow is payday, and a baby who cries – even if loudly – is generally a healthy baby.
– Today was a miserable day at work, but I didn’t get fired and perhaps tomorrow will be better. In any case, the day is over, so let’s be here, now.

Et cetera.

I think I’ve been living like that for so long that I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing it on a conscious level. When I hear people complaining about the weather, for example – and it’s the same weather that I’m experiencing – what occurs to me is that “it’s not so bad, because here we all are, anyway, chatting about it”, or “we sure needed that rain”, or even “wasn’t that an exciting storm!”

But on the other hand, I also don’t think it’s a Pollyanna type response to the world, and “only seeing good in everything”. I know how bad things are and have pretty vivid ideas of how bad things could be – of how bad they very will might be after next January, to think ahead a bit – hell, you’ve read my writing here; you know I can bitch as well as anyone. But I have the same sense of optimism that Churchill had when he said about us that, “The Americans can be counted upon to do the right thing – after they have exhausted all of the other possibilities.”

Now that’s optimism.

DoNotKnowMuch's avatar

Great answers, @CWOTUS.

The only thing I could add (if it hasn’t been covered already) is that you may also find that you can even find yourself envious of yourself at various times in the past or future (as in “what could have been”). I have definitely found myself missing what I have lost. But if I am really paying attention, what I find is that I never lost anything because I never had it to begin with. Making peace with change – because that is all there is – has made a huge difference in my life.

And as has been mentioned, there is something tricky about a certain type of effort that results in the opposite of what you are striving for. Think of the old cliches about looking for partner (“You only find one when you stop looking.”). In many ways, our desire for happiness results in our perpetual pursuit of pleasant experiences and an avoidance of the unpleasant. But this is guaranteed to result in a perpetual state of unhappiness.

Maybe happiness isn’t really the goal, because who really wants to be happy all of the time? Do we want to be smiling and happy when a loved one dies, or do we want to experience the deep pain and sadness that is associated with this? Is it possible to meet all experience with some level of equanimity and openness? I’ve been experimenting with this for a few years now with chronic pain and health conditions, and I’m learning much about my own beliefs surrounding envy, happiness, and change.

ucme's avatar

Reactionary ignorant yanks bleating on about brexit when they clearly have no fucking clue what they’re on about…that kind of vibe?

CWOTUS's avatar

Well, some of us who have a smattering of history have sort of a clue. So with that in mind: Congratulations!

Cruiser's avatar

If you have your health you have everything you will ever need and no further need to compare what you have to any other person.

zenvelo's avatar

One other thing it took me a while to learn:

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outside. No matter what they seem to have, their lives may be absolutely miserable.

zenvelo's avatar

Was talking about this earlier with a friend.

He noted,” when you see that Ferrari parked in front a beautiful house, think about the mortgage, the insurance, the worry about the stock market, whether he is feeling ripped off, not to mention how much work and stress goes into,whatever he or she is doing to get all that stuff.

If you really want that Ferrari, you have to take all that other crap along with it.”

SABOTEUR's avatar

There an old parable about a dog who had a bone. This dog looked into a stream and mistook his own reflexion as another dog. Greedily eyeing the bone in the “other dog’s” mouth, he attempted to snatch that dog’s bone. In the process he dropped the bone he was carrying into the water.

I believe that at some point in a person’s life they should experience some form of hitting “rock bottom”...

…or “lose their bone”.

This is because we often fail to appreciate what we have until we don’t have it anymore. Focusing on someone else’s life is a vivid demonstration of the inability to appreciate how truly blessed we are.

2davidc8's avatar

I think @Cruiser nailed it. Having good health is the most important thing. One cancer diagnosis and everything changes. That is not to say that that there aren’t other considerations, like @CWOTUS so eloquently explains. But good health is the most important. Without good health, you can’t really enjoy (or do) anything.

2davidc8's avatar

There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Beware of your possessions, or they might end up possessing YOU.” The Ferrari that @zenvelo mentions is a good example. If you have a Ferrari, then you’re going to worry about having to insure it, worry about someone stealing it or dinging it, maybe making the payments, etc. You’re going to spend a lot more time, effort, and money caring for it. It’s possessing you.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Another perspective concerns the failure to acknowledge that what you have TODAY is what you longed for YESTERDAY. But we’re so caught up in the LONGING of it all that we never enjoy whatever we longed for.

We’re just LONGING…

…for someone else’s stuff.

Then too is the mistaken belief that the acquisition of things makes us happy.

Nothing “makes” you happy.

Happiness is a decision.

So when you DECIDE to base your happiness on anything or anyone other than your SELF, you doom yourself to unhappiness on the endless treadmill of acquisition.

raisedbyswans's avatar

From the situation you’ve told, it’s obvious that you’re not satisfied with your own life. So, try to concentrate on it, first of all. Take efforts to improve your style of living. When comparing yourself to others, do it wisely. It’s better to get rid of envy but if you can’t do this for now, just use it as a motivation. Analyze what makes you jealous of and create an image of whom you want to be. Then search for ways to achieve these goals. Imitate the behavior of people you like. Maybe, you’ll come closer to what you have been dreaming of, or understand that to walk a mile in someone’s shoes is not so good as it seems at the first sight. In any case, you’ll benefit from your envy. Although, you should fight it because it’ll constantly spoil your life.

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