Average Happiness

Much of our society is focused on being the best. One MVP is chosen. Only one singer becomes the American Idol. It is no longer an accomplishment to write a book, you have to be a #1 best seller. Getting a high GPA is not important unless you are the valedictorian. We are obsessed by being the “best” and receiving awards. We have accepted that striving to be the pinnacle should be our goal in life.

But is the competition to be acknowledged good for us? How is the desire to have one winner hurting our society as a whole?

world series winnerParents and educators must have recognized that all this competition, all the desire to have one winner, is hurting our children. Because of this, we now have participation ribbons making everyone special. But this solution is still based on the current way of thinking that our goal in life is to be the best. This solution makes everyone the best, which really makes no one. The problem is the striving to be recognized. It is the desire to be special which is hurting us. We should try to be our best and we have every right to be proud of our achievements. But we need to stop the all or nothing attitude of either I am the best or I am meaningless. I believe this desire and need to be the pinnacle is what is causing us stress and depression.

Is the more we need to brag – the less we really think of ourselves? Do we need praise and accomplishments to feel good about ourselves? Do we need to stand above others to feel as if we are worthy?

A dear friend of mine is constantly telling me how he has been singled out, proving to me how special he is. It is sad to watch how he needs to promote himself, to tout his accolades. He needs to win. He needs to receive rewards. He needs to be the one and only. He truly believes that in being numero uno he will receive love and adoration.  What I usually see in him is not someone who is happy, but someone who is constantly needing reassurance. If he is not the top, he does not exist.

Could the pressure to be “special” be the reason for high rates of depression? Could the expectation of constantly winning be the cause of our unhappiness? Neuroscientists at the University College of London (UCL) think so. According to Robb Rutledge of UCL during their recent research, “We expected to see that recent rewards would affect moment-to-moment happiness but were surprised to find just how important expectations are in determining happiness.” Basically, they discovered that having lower expectations made it easier to surpass those expectations therefore causing joy.  Basically, if we set our expectations too high, we have more of a chance to be disappointed. Expect less, get more.

A good example of a culture which embodies the less is more attitude is Denmark which is once again the world’s happiest country. As a culture, the Danish seek to have an average life. They do not need to be the star of their own reality show. They do not need to win the highest award in their field. They do not need to have their picture on the cover of Time Magazine. Danish do their best, expect an average life, and are happy as a clam when things go better than expected. Look at that in contrast to Americans who strive to be the best, and are often disappointed. Only one person can be “best” which leaves millions of others very unhappy.

Much of our society is focused on success, top dog success. Millions of dollars are spent every year for this or that course to help you make it to the top of the ladder. Instead of joining the masses all pursuing the one elusive top seat, why not create your own definition of success? Keep it attainable. Keep it realistic. And work toward it. You may gain more than you planned, and you may not. But either way you will be more content and happy than if you had unrealistic prodigious expectations.

4 comments

  1. Hi Melissa,
    I love your message here. It has been a pet peeve of mine that children are taught to “reach for the stars.” I don’t think it is a bad thing, but being happy with “averageness” is just as important. As you pointed out, only one person gets to the top despite thousands trying for the same spot! This does not mean that the rest of us are failures. The Danish have it right to live a simple, average life and one can (and should) feel just as successful and happy.

    1. Glad this post resonated with you. I think we need to strive every day to be our personal best. The goal is to live our life fully, as we are meant to. Having goals to beat out others only creates conflict and disappointment. Being the best average me is much more rewarding.

  2. All my children were athletic and my husband was often the coach at the park district level. It made me crazy that they all had to have a trophy at the end of each season. We have just moved, they thought their trophies were silly and all were donated. That made me really happy.

    I’m happy we taught them to be realistic and not have to have a “thing” to show they played a sport. They have grown and all have jobs, YEAH!!!!!!!

    1. Glad your children found pride in playing the game and giving their best. Inside “trophies” – pride – are much more powerful than acknowledgements received from others.

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