Comparing-our second nature

Comparing our second nature
Comparing our second nature
Spread a smile

Humans are wired in this way, wired to compare. We are always looking at the things around us in relative terms. We can’t help that. We always compare jobs with jobs, education with education, beauty with beauty, vacation with vacation, relation with relation, life with life.

Incessant comparison 

That’s the point, everything in life, happiness, misery, accomplishment, education, beauty, intelligence everything is comparative.

Paradoxically, the society we live in teaches us to think on relative terms, to compare the miseries, so we feel less miserable and to relate the accomplishment, so we feel more accomplished. The question remains, what standards do we use to measure ourselves to others? Most people don’t know what to do until they see someone doing it.

Of Family get-together and reunion

Whether it’s family or friends, when people gather together, people can’t stop this urge to measure others up. The scene is so clichéd, while few are bragging about their lives; others are eating their hearts out.

Are you envious or the envied one

Once the initial excitement of meeting and greeting is over, the further discussions inevitably gravitate towards schmoozing, touching the uncomfortable terrain of jobs, salaries, valuable acquisitions, vacations, education etc.

Whether you are making more money than your wife’s sister’s husband? Whether your kids are studying in renowned universities and pursuing promising courses than the rest?

The vast spread of food starts to taste stale for some. Among the uncrowned kings, few are going to feel like failures.

Rich now envy the super-rich

You attend a party, you spot them immediately, standing in the middle of the room, holding a drink in hand with small circles gathering around them, the centre of attraction, the most loaded, powerful and influential. When you thought you were making a fortune here comes a yacht owner.

Even if you are a stoic or a Zen follower, you cannot ignore that envy springing within you.

Not confined to materialistic things 

As mentioned before, everything in life is relative, even the ephemeral feeling of happiness, sadness, contentment, fulfilment, are also not spared.

Relating while buying 

Relating and comparison are also a must in the marketplace, whether you are buying tomatoes or diamonds. Most of the time, people don’t know the actual value of things, and they focus on the relative advantage of one thing with the other.

Applying this insight on human behaviour into the marketplace is as old as the history of economics and decoy effect is one of this.

Decoy Effect

Decoy effect

Most people don’t know what kind of television or washing machine they would like to have. Seller plays the same decoy on them, and shows different models, with different specifications, starting with the most expensive, followed by the rest in the descending order of price. 

It is much profitable to present the expensive item first since the decoy effect, or the contrast principle would be in favour of them. Presenting an inexpensive product first and following it with an expensive one will cause the costly item to seem even more expensive as a result.

Most often, people end up buying the second most costly item. You also believe in the stereotype that expensive is good. When you are looking at the relatively better thing, you need the mere presence of decoy there.

Real estate markets 

Real estate agents (not all but a few ) while doing business, start providing the client with a couple of undesirable and “expensive homes”, followed by the property they intend to sell, which relatively looks like a good bargain, both in terms of desirability and money.

Sales and marketing people make use of the decoy effect in ways you never know. The decoy effect is the secret agent in more of our decisions than we could imagine.

Decoy effect simplified

Suppose someone is trying to impress a potential partner in a party, they may like to take along with them a  comparatively less attractive friend so they may end up looking much better than they are. Good chances of them getting some more attention. If they are trying to impress someone with their smooth talks and wits, they would consider taking along some socially awkward person.

So next time someone asks you to accompany them to any such events, you might wonder whether you have been invited along for your company or merely a decoy.

Downside of comparison 

In his novel, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho has said, “Comparison is a thief of joy“.

Comparing our lot in life with that of others is going to make your life miserable with envy and resentment.

Being ambitious and having a competitive attitude to life are the rules of the game as long as one knows where the healthy competition ends and the obsession for abundance begins.

More and more

There are going to be people competent than you, gorgeous than you, more abundant and accomplished than you. To feel better, you can rephrase the above sentence; there are people less competent and accomplished than you. I think that rephrasing is not going to give you any comfort because we would always aspire for more.

Ten Commandments 

Who else knows His creations better than the Creator. Ten Commandments, the Moral Code of Conduct instructed us to be wary of ourselves.

Neither shall you desire your neighbour’s house nor field or male or female slave or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

You might be thinking, moral code of conduct, in this era? Well, if that’s not going to help you, you have to think about a different strategy to get out this whirlwind of comparison.

A fulfilling life

Difficult it may be, focus on your life and your accomplishments. As the behavioural economist Dan Ariely has said, “The more we have, the more we want. And the only cure is to break the cycle of relativity“.

What matters to you most

This is enough. This simplification is going to make you satisfied beyond the moment. The values which determine the metric by which you measure your success and happiness should be based on your priorities and what that matters to you the most.

Sayeeda Pearl

Doctor by profession, Trivandrum medical college alumni, a passionate reader first, writing tidbits here and there on this and that. Sharing bits of life’s fascinating teachings that everyone encounters.

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