We live in a world of inevitable comparison. We check social media and see the best moments of our friends' lives - big weddings, new houses, exotic vacations. We watch TV and are bombarded by things that we can't afford - the latest technology, fancy clothes, expensive cars. We go to work and hear stories of our coworkers' success - this person got a huge raise, this person bought a new boat, this person lost 10 pounds.
The 21st century is a time like never before. We are constantly being exposed to the highlights of other people's lives, but our minds often fail to realize what highlights actually are. Life has its ups and its downs and highlights focus solely on the ups. Our minds tend to disregard the fact that everyone, without exception, has their own problems to deal with. This can subconsciously push us to shift our expectations based on our perceived, fictional view of other people's lives. Heightened expectations can result in sadness and disappointment.
Here's a simple anecdote to put this theory into perspective. Let's say you're looking to buy a puppy and there's a new breed that you have your eye on. In one instance, your friends all tell you that this new breed is overrated. It's difficult to train, barks a lot, chews up anything and everything - 3/10. You get the puppy, expecting the worst, and are happily surprised that he's calm, sweet, and gentle - 7/10. Your satisfaction increases by 133%.
In another instance, your friends tell you that this new breed is spectacular, obedient, and friendly - 9/10. You get the puppy, with high hopes, and are disappointed that he pees everywhere and doesn't like children and other dogs - 7/10. Your satisfaction decreases by 22%. In both cases, the puppy remains the same, but your perspective shifts. The more you expect, the more likely you are to be unhappy.
Comparison may be inevitable, but it's also controllable. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, we should focus on comparing ourselves to our past selves. We should compare the person we are today to the person we were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, or even just a day ago. Self-improvement is how true happiness is found. Happiness isn't just something that we stumble upon - it's something that we work towards.
Let's say that it has always been your dream to be an English teacher. You go to college and realize that the classes are a lot more difficult than you expected them to be. Everyone else seems to be getting better grades, having more fun, and succeeding at a higher rate than you. Instead of comparing yourself to others, which will surely lead you down a path of disappointment, you should develop a plan for self-improvement. How will you develop better study techniques? How will you learn to manage your time better? How will you get better grades next semester compared to this semester?
You probably won't graduate with all A's like others in your class, and that's a pointless expectation to create for yourself. At the end of four years, you can take pride in the fact that you got smarter, your grades got better, and eventually, you became an English teacher. This is where true happiness lies. Happiness equals reality minus expectations. You're in charge of creating a reality and controlling your expectations.