The Magic of Being Truly Happy For Others
Dr. John Izzo’s new book, The Five Thieves of Happiness, defines insidious mental patterns that steal happiness. The five thieves are control, conceit, consumption, coveting, and comfort. In this guest post by Dr. Izzo, he looks at the thief of coveting. The thief of coveting makes it a challenge to enjoy the success of others without becoming less happy yourself.
Big Dogs, Little Dogs, and Happy Dogs
One of my mentors early in my life told me that when you spend your life comparing yourself with others, you will always find yourself feeling like a Chihuahua among Saint Bernards. Simply translated, there will always be a dog bigger than you or who has qualities you wish you had. Instead of celebrating the dog you are, you will always find yourself wishing you were another breed.
This thief is a trickster. It comes disguised as helpful ambition, focusing us to achieve and grow, but then it tricks us by making the reference point for happiness how we compare with others instead of whether we are being ourselves or developing our gifts to our best capacity. Life becomes a contest instead of a journey.
This became real to me when I published my first book. It was a great accomplishment, and I thought for certain that once it was published my heart would be filled with gratitude. But suddenly instead of comparing myself with those who had never written a book, I compared myself with those who had written multiple books. Then when my first book became a best seller, instead of being filled with gratitude, I found myself focusing on those whose books were mega–best sellers. Whatever happiness writing a book had brought me was stolen when the thief had me comparing myself with others instead of focusing on what I had accomplished.
The thief keeps us asking the wrong question. Instead of asking who we are, we find ourselves focusing on how we compare. The great task of life is not to be better than others but to truly be ourselves. When I wrote The Five Secrets, many of the people I interviewed warned me about comparing ourselves to others, but even more profoundly they told me that the great the third task of life was to be yourself! That is, to know what makes you happy and to live by that internal compass rather than by what others tell you matters. How we compare is a question that will never have a positive answer because either the mirror will tell us that someone else is fairer or we will have to keep checking in with the mirror every day to make sure we haven’t lost our spot! It is hard to imagine a more exhausting life than one forever lived in comparison with others.
A magazine editor asked me years ago to write a 1,500- word essay on the theme What matters most? A group of compelling personalities were all taking a crack at that question, and I felt honored (and intimidated) to participate. It also felt a bit daunting to forever put down on paper my view of what mattered most. For weeks I racked my brain. What matters most—love, world peace, spirituality, health, relationships, family, legacy? The list seemed infinite. In the end my essay posited a simple idea: what matters most is to know what matters most to you and to live your life focused on that.
This is exactly why the third thief can be so dangerous. If we live our life comparing ourselves with others, we can easily find ourselves climbing up a long ladder to the top of a building we aren’t even sure we want to be on. When we look in the mirror, rather than ask how we compare, we should be asking questions like What do I value? What matters to me? What is the best use of my one life?
Banishing the Thief
Now that we are aware of the impact this thief has on our happiness, we must be intentional about banishing it. Once again, the three steps become an essential tool. Aware now of the thief, you will start to notice its presence on a regular basis. It will show up even in simple daily circumstances like when a colleague or friend comes to work looking particularly good or when something positive happens in the life of someone you know. It will show up on your best days, when you realize that what you accomplish never seems to be enough for you, and also on your worst days, when you find it hard to connect to gratitude. Remember that in meditation the goal is always to gently brush aside thoughts that do not serve us.
Begin to notice the thief’s presence with a sense of humor, if you can. Imagine yourself saying, Now there you go again, comparing yourself with others. The act of noticing may not seem like a powerful force, but it is. The first step in all matters of the mind is to see what is really going on. Noticing and naming something often goes a long way toward disarming it. When a friend launched a new online leadership program with success and I felt a hint of coveting, just by becoming aware of it I was able to brush it aside and move into a place of gratitude for her.
Once a thief loses its disguise, it can’t trick you any further. It’s like the moment you find out the secret behind a magic trick. Suddenly, the trick, or even a similar one, can’t fool you anymore, even if you wanted it to. Try to become adept at identifying the thief’s disguises. The more you uncover it, the better your mind will become at disarming the thief before it even triggers your reaction.
Dr. John Izzo is a corporate advisor, a frequent speaker and the bestselling author of seven books including the international bestsellers Awakening Corporate Soul, Values Shift, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, and Stepping Up. His latest book is The Five Thieves of Happiness.
Over the last twenty years he has spoken to over one million people, taught at two major universities, advised over 500 organizations and is frequently featured in the media by the likes of Fast Company, PBS, CBC, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and INC Magazine.
LinkedIn: Dr. John Izzo