The Art of Happiness - Chasing Superiority


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The second impediment to being happy is to chase superiority. It is in human nature to get attracted to other people’s status and develop adoration for what others have. Humans have a tendency to follow their dreams, and many a times; these dreams are made of what they see of others.

If your friend has a bungalow and you don’t, there are chances that you will try to get a bungalow by some means – be it by earning money through part-time job, or by switching your organization or may be even by some crooked means. This is so inherent in human nature that most of the times, we don’t even realize that we are committing this mistake. Knowingly or unknowingly, each human tries to outperform his superiors and in this process, turns out to be unhappier every day.

Common Traits that Lead to Unhappiness

The following are the common traits in the superiors that make the inferiors feel unhappy −

  • Wealth
  • Beauty
  • Professional success
  • Power
  • Smartness

Wanting to be better than everyone else is the root cause of unhappiness. To understand this impediment, let us consider an example.

In a workplace, every employee works up to his full potential. In corporate world, it is necessary to do so or else you will lose out in the race. Moreover, giving an award to one employee makes that employee happy. However, it makes other employees jealous or even if not jealous, it does increase their competitive spirit. To bag the award in the next quarter, each employee works harder and longer in the office. Longer hours don’t guarantee better work. However, the desire to gain the superior status leads them to ignore their family and their interests.

Instead of being happier, they grow more morose as days pass by and as their health deteriorates, unhappiness reaches new levels. This is how chasing superiority leads to unhappiness. Another example to help us understand this problem is the common problem faced by teenagers in the colleges. A student may be good in studies, but due to peer pressure, the goals of the student changes. The pressure to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend just because his friends also have theirs leads to chasing superiority in life.

Peer Pressure

Our human culture is such that if one achieves something, the entire world comes around to pat on his/her back. Appreciations, laurels and applauses are showered on the person, making him feel good but also making him realize that one will be admired only after doing something superior. This instills a thought in everyone’s mind since childhood that in order to be admired, one has to reach to a level of someone superior.

Hubristic Pride and Expertise

The reason why humans seek superiority is that they feel happy when they win or achieve something by defeating others. The happiness that one feels by getting ahead of others makes one seek superiority. The third reason why we pursue superiority is the desire for mastering skills. When someone finds another person superior to oneself, the person is compelled to realize that he/she is not perfect at that thing. And that is the reason why humans follow superiority.

Autonomy

Moreover, we also feel a lot of autonomy and freedom when we find ourselves superior to others. That is the reason why managers feel that they have more freedom than their subordinates and this is also the reason, why subordinates try to get promoted to the post of manager.

Autonomy

Unnecessary and relentless pursuit of superiority takes us away from other important things in life. This is the reason why pursuit of superiority leads to unhappiness.

Impact of Pursuing Superiority on Happiness

In the previous section, we have understood how pursuit of superiority is prevalent in human culture. In this section, we will understand how this habit impacts our happiness levels.

Social Comparisons

The need for superiority can incite us to work more and better. It can inspire us to be better than others. However, it also leads us to compare ourselves with others. The problems arise when social comparisons start happening in our mind. For example, to know how well we play guitar, we will perhaps compare ourselves with acclaimed guitar players or those who have won awards in music contests. Such social comparisons make us envious of others and this is one reason why it makes us unhappy. Such social comparisons have much more negative impact if the benchmarks are the ones who are closer to us.

Materialism

Materialism is another reason why pursuing superiority leads to unhappiness. To compare one with others, the parameters often used are materialistic. The parameters for comparison can be who has won more awards, or who has more money or who has more fan following. Such things like money, awards and fan following are materialistic things. Comparison on materialistic dimensions leads to unhappiness, because materialistic things separate us from our older friends and relatives, making us lonely. Moreover, desire for materialistic things never ends. Whenever one gets more wealth, the mind cries for even more. That is why the desire never ends and hence, the happiness level that we seek from materialistic things is never attained.

Self-centered Approach

Moreover, by seeking superiority, we become more self-centered. This is one reason why people around us begin disliking us. As a result, we lose our influence over others and relationship with them, which nullifies the attainment of superiority. This again leads to unhappiness.

Control the Need for Superiority

Superiority is not a necessary factor for being happy. The need of superiority is not a necessity to motivate oneself. Sometimes, it may develop a killer instinct and may even spur us to take risks. But in the longer term, the desire of superiority impacts us negatively.

Daniel H. Pink and his colleagues from Duke University found through their study in Massachusetts Institute of Technology that in mechanical work, students performed better when bigger reward was given for better work. However, for the tasks that required cognitive skills, the performance of the students lowered for the tasks that had higher reward. The pressure to ace at the more difficult tasks to gain more money made their performance decline in quality. The results were similar in an experiment conducted in India too. Higher incentives led to worse performance in both the studies.

Hence, in tasks requiring cognitive thinking, higher incentive leads to worse performance. This is because the desire for incentives occupies a part of your brain and it decreases your productivity.

The result of decrease in productivity, growth in loneliness and the habit of social comparison is killing happiness levels. Although we may feel more motivated to work, but it may actually worsen our performance regardless of our motivation levels.

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