Human nature is funny. I see examples of this everyday in my counseling practice. People come with an array of problems. They see me after their wishing doesn't work. Some are in bad marriages, others have health or financial problems, and still others have job related uncertainty. They add to their problems by looking at others who are or seem to be happier, healthier, richer, or more content. By comparing themselves with others, they worsen their problems. They verbalize their discontent by saying, "If only...." "If only I had more money like Bill, then I would be happy." Or "if only I had a job like Judy, I would feel better."
Occasionally, my clients say that they are mad at God for not giving them what God has given to others. It is not long before this "if only-itis" spreads and causes real depression and unhappiness. If this disease goes unchecked, complaining persons soon see everyone as better off than they are.
If the truth were known, I too have fallen victim to feeling victimized by life, God, and whoever else I could blame. Perhaps, you have had bouts with this disease also. If so, there is a cure for it. Initially, the problem is one of perception-or rather misperception. While it may be true that some of your friends are more blessed than you, you cannot be certain of that. Appearances are often misleading-all that glitters is not always gold.
In addition if you and I are selective about our poll of luckier people, then the conclusions that we draw will be misleading. For example, if you want a larger house and see several of your friends with larger ones, you might say, "If only I had one like them, then I would be content." Here is a possible cure for this difficulty. Write down all the people who you feel have nicer homes then you do. This should take you ten or fifteen minutes to do a complete list. Next, drive around your town and count the number of homes that are less nice than yours. My guess is that this task will take you much longer.
You can also correct your perception of your problem by comparing yourself to the rest of the world. There are over six billion people sharing space with you on Earth. How many of them would, in a New York minute, trade places with you and your overwhelmingly depressing problems? How many people in Bosnia would see you as most fortunate? Do you think that you could find more than a handful in Somalia that have it better than you? Then there are the people of China, Russia, South and Central America, and the rest of Africa with which to compare yourself. My guess is that you and I would fall into the top few per cent of the world's population in most all of our categories even though we complain about our circumstances.
A good dose of gratitude will surely help our "if only-itis" condition. If the vast majority of the world's population would trade places with us, then we need to take a serious look at our list of dissatisfactions with life. Another way to view this treatment is to ask ourselves whether we would be happier if we traded places with them. If after taking a strong dose of gratitude, we still feel that we need to improve our situation, here are several suggestions.
Set some obtainable goals. Decide what needs to be done to reach these objectives. Then use your dissatisfaction to motivate you to complete the chosen task rather than comparing yourself with a very select few and complaining about how life is treating you unfairly.
This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.