Exploring Happiness Blog - Competition

The European soccer championships offer a good starting point to explore competition. While the championships are entertaining, competition causes so much unhappiness. So, why do we keep comparing ourselves to others?

Why competition?

According to Loretta Graziano’s book Habits of a Happy Brain, herd animals (humans belong to that group) constantly measure all others around them to see if they are weaker or stronger. This creates a hierarchy and determines who has a place in the safe middle or the dangerous outside circle of the group, who is getting to the water/good spots first and who is not. Each group member measures each other, usually without a fight. The decision is always about who is at the top, winning, and who is at the bottom, losing. (By the way, the feel-good hormone Serotonin is triggered when you are on top.) Sounds familiar?

Now, in today’s human society the top and bottom positions are not all that clear. One might say that rich famous people are at the top and poor people are at the bottom. However, society has become more complex, acknowledging that rich is not always the most desirable adjective if it doesn’t come with other attributes. Poor might still be undesirable, however, poor is very relative. Competition is also based on relative reference points. It means that when we move “up” or “down” in society, there are always new reference points to compare to.

A way out

So, we are comparing and competing by nature. But interestingly we can also determine the competition rules. We can make them less absolute and accept that I am better in something but the other is better in something else. Or, I can get inspired that someone else is better and strive to master that skill. Or, and this is my favourite, I can know that I am great at being me and that nobody can be better at that – so I am always the winner in the competition that really counts. Sounds silly but actually works.

There is another aspect of this story. In competition, it is about winning and losing. However, in human/social interactions we so often focus on what the other one has or is good at and conclude that we then are the losers. We feel bad for not being good enough. But if you already know that you are the best at something (being yourself), you can work on the connection instead. Because if the other one is good at something or has something you want, why not connect and work out a deal or support each other? Why focus on the negative when there is a positive?

When interacting with others, always focus on connecting rather than impressing or competing. After all, isn’t it about the experience rather than reaching the end line first?