1. Comparing yourself to others
Ever heard the saying “compare and despair”? Comparing yourself to someone else usually means that you imagine the other person is better off, more satisfied – in a word, happier. But, here’s the problem: We end up comparing what we know about our life, which is a mixed bag of good and bad, with a fantasy of someone else’s supposedly “perfect” life. Why do we do this? Because we know all about our own problems, but other people’s problems are harder to see. As a result, our real life always loses out. That leads to despair. Besides, there’s probably someone comparing his or her life to your supposedly perfect one – which shows you how ridiculous it all is.
2. “Shoulding on yourself”
It’s easy to imagine yourself making a choice that would have taken you to a different place in your life.
- I should have married this person
- I should have taken that job
- I should have moved.
This is called “shoulding all over yourself.” (Say it aloud and the negative meaning becomes clearer.) Reflecting on our choices is an important way to grow, but you cannot live your real life if you’re busy living your “should have” life. Jesus of Nazareth once said you cannot serve two masters. You can’t live two lives either.
3. Trying to get people to like you
I spent a lot of time trying to get people to like me. But forcing people’s affection never works. Besides, it takes too much energy to tailor yourself to what you think people will like. Your true friends like you already. Be open to change and growth by all means, but treasure friends who love you for who you are. St. Francis de Sales, the gentle and lighthearted 17th-century saint once said: “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.”
4. Being a jerk
You’re tired, you’re rushed. You’ve got a cold. You’re late. You’re angry about something your boss said. Yes, you’re miserable. That doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk to everyone else. It really doesn’t. Sure, share your frustrations and struggles with close friends, but don’t make everyone else’s life more miserable by passing on your misery. Once I joked to a friend, “Boy, my life is such a cross!” “Yes,” he said, “But for you or others?”
5. Making fun of people
Nothing brings me lower than a few minutes of mocking another person, particularly if the person is absent. But the snappy putdown has a high value in our culture, and famous snubs are often repeated approvingly. Much of our current political climate consists of politicians mocking their opponents. (That’s been a big help, hasn’t it?) Malicious speech is an easy way to wound. If you feel powerless to resist badmouthing someone, ask yourself three questions: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?
6. Being hard on yourself
“Be easy on yourself,” is advice I give to my clients. Now I have to apply it to my own life as well. So, while reading this list don’t beat yourself up about stupid things you’ve done in the past, but you want to change yourself. So be careful to “trust in the slow work of God,” as the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin used to say. He was also a paleontologist, so he knew about things moving really slowly. If you ever get discouraged about your rate of change, just think about trees – yes trees. In the summer they’re green. In the fall they’re red and no one sees them change.