Why Everybody Else Is Happier Than You

Why does Facebook famously feed depression? The Happiest Virtual Place On Earth can feel like one endless reminder of the Things That Are Missing in our life. Offline, I look at the people around me. My single friends would give an arm to be married. Those with families of their own each have their burden, ones I am grateful to have been spared. So why are we convinced that others were dealt better cards, when every one of us remains in need of support and understanding?


Reasons We’re Sure Everybody Is Happier Than Us*

1. We are unsatisfied with our lot, no matter how it turns. The human condition is not, in the language of mathematicians, an equation but an inequality: My life < The Ideal. By literary metaphor, we are an unfinished story, which is why our heart beats for more. More money, more time, more joy, more toys, more love. We bring to the table our fractured perspective, limited understanding, hopes conceived of an unresolved past. We will never, by the bootstraps of our humanness, be able to complete our relationships because we can’t complete ourselves.

2. Our sense of entitlement. Conflict in these imperfect relationships gives us away and pride declares, “I deserve better. He owes me appreciation, recognition. She should’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.” Disgruntled where we are, how nice and green lies the grass on the other side.

3. The myth of perfectionism. I borrow some insights from Alain Botton, author of the NY Times article Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, on our misguided notions of love because nowhere else do we so generously spin our fantasies of happiness. In a recent roundtable entitled How We Choose Our Spouses, Botton spoke of the reaction his article had garnered:

What was interesting was that people were overwhelming relieved. Look, it’s like telling people you will have an unhappy life…I think that often we suffer from a burden of shame around how difficult it is that we find it to live, to love, to make good choices…And the reason that there is something oppressive in being told that only perfection will do as the basis of marriage, is that so many of our marriages, under that kind of judgment, have to seem below par and it can seem rather punitive and oppressive as if we have failed to measure up to a standard which most of us simply cannot measure up to.

We allow Facebook and blogs to perpetuate the hope in fairy tales, the expectation that we grow up and live happy, photogenic lives.

We should learn to accommodate ourselves to ”wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners…We don’t need people to be perfect in love. We need people to be good enough.

4. Love, according to Botton, is not an impulse of feeling but a skill. It isn’t pay dirt at emotional Roulette but “with all of us deeply broken, a chance of success in love means being able to deal with our brokenness, both inside ourselves and in a partner.” I’d say this truth holds for all our relationships. “Compatibility is ultimately an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be…the precondition of falling in love.” Love is something you work, and often work hard, at. You manage expectations of spouse, friend, self, and life, being able to explain your craziness as you grow in self-awareness. But we somehow believe life doesn’t exact so much effort of those around us.

*HW won out in the argument with her twin The Grammar Mafia and managed to keep the vernacular with the objective pronoun.

146 thoughts on “Why Everybody Else Is Happier Than You

  1. Great piece and Botton is so right – we believe the lies that films, literature, the media tells us, that we should have perfection in our lives, in our children and partners, our homes, our life accomplishments and our love. And we just can’t. We are all broken and if we can stop striving for these impossible goals, if we can muddle along thinking, ‘this is just fine’ then we’re doing pretty damn well. Thanks for sharing this – much needed.
    And congrats on your big 2000! πŸ™‚

  2. That’s why I happily ignore Facebook. πŸ˜‰
    But you are right – it is strange how much we always compare ourselves to others. Would we only be truly happy if the rest of the world was miserable? A really disturbing thought. Maybe we have to practise to be honestly happy for other people, without thinking “I want that too”. Just be happy for them, with them. It is really hard. πŸ˜‰ (And I am not good at it either!)

    • Ha ha great questions that further reveal our craziness and stupidity. We are a bunch of disturbing creatures expecting life to work out great for us! I hardly FB. I show up now and then for the friends who’ve made it their home and want updates on T.

  3. Poignant ponderings Diana. Social media tends to be a show place of idealism and showing our best, rather than the reality of our messy lives. I like the idea of love as a skill we develop. I seem to be stuck in grade school level. Send help. πŸ™‚

  4. I don’t like facebook, in addition to the problems you describe, it seems to foster self absorption and narcissicism, traits which I find unappealing. I really am not moved when people post endless photos of themselves or their children or grandchildren. People interest me when they are interested in things outside of themselves. Enjoyed your post. You are interesting.

  5. Oh yes, my mother and I were just talking about how social media seems to bring out the ego in all of us, leaving many others feeling ‘less than’. But, interestingly enough, people who engage in social media are also said to live longer lives. Go figure. A great reminder here in any case.

    • Longer lives. Huh. That takes us to the benefits of connection and community, and endorphins. There’s also the fact that in the end, it’s not anyone’s fault really that we might feel that way. As I mentioned, we need to work on our own issues.

  6. Many excellent points. I’m not a big fan of Facebook either (I can really get myself into trouble with my big mouth). I’ve learned the hard way that material success or beauty doesn’t bring happiness so I do not envy people younger, prettier or more successful than me. I do envy the monk sitting on a mountaintop meditating sometimes. Congrats on the likes!

  7. I like Facebook for what it gives me, a link to my family without having to call them all the time. I can see what they’re doing and they can see my activity. I don’t follow everyone I’m connected to though, which is different. If I followed everyone, I’d perhaps be depressed as you say.
    However, it is a great post because it is human nature to compare ourselves to others.

    • Excellent comment. My daughter got me into FB because it was that much easier for her to share photos of her children with relatives.
      I see friends of mine on FB, and it seems the ones who post most often don’t have someone to talk to often enough. They like the community. No judgements.

      • I get a kick out of my grand daughter who complains about all her friends’ selfie’s and that’s pretty much hers. She’s a gorgeous Amazon, but if it’s not pics of her son, it’s her in various poses. Lol

  8. Congratulations on your 2,000 Diana! I don’t use Facebook, so I don’t have to worry about other people’s ‘perfect’ lives πŸ™‚ It’s too true that we long for more and for perfection, but where do you go after perfection? It leaves no room to grow. I wonder if we wanted so much in days gone by, when we had so much less.

    • Thanks, Andrea. I respect people who don’t FB (and somehow I can’t picture you slapping selfies everywhere, LOL). When I finally did peep my head out over there, cajoled by a friend and in naive belief that it was something I “had” to do to grow this blog a few yrs back, I discovered I hated it as much as I knew I would, for more reasons than one. Really love your reflection. Will have to chew on that.

  9. I used to know a creepy guy who told me that the notifications on his Facebook (the little yellow numbers that show how many you have before you click on it) are like “presents” to him. So he waits to open them when the right time comes along. Maybe when he feels down or something. Just thought that was quite sad that such a thing would be considered to be presents – or possibly instant encouragements, which are quite trivial in real life. Great post as usual, dear!

    • Wow, I don’t quite know what the notifications are, as clumsy and inept as I am in all things tech outside this blog, but that is sad. I suppose how he takes to his likes are not unLIKE how many of us enjoy ours on WPress, but “opening” them as he does is a bit overboard. It does show, though, the littlest things can mean so much!

  10. Diana, Great post. FB is the last place I would look for peace and contentment. I refer to Emma Bombeck’s “The grass grows greener over the septic tank. We often find boasts of others amount to a hill of manure.

    Take heart, Diana. I’ve found that love is not evident in the things that bring two people together, but, rather, in those things that keep them together.

  11. Facebook has made amateur public relations execs out of soooo many. I think you have to be slightly insane not to have all the saccharine bits, the politics, the curating of “perfect” families online make you question things or roll your eyes:). See how infinitely sane you are? I always knew it:).

  12. I’m happy with making my own choices and am willing to accept consequences. That, to me, is freedom. Never assume others are happier or more fulfilled. Contrary to popular belief, I sense a deep loneliness within all these social media addicts, a desire to connect on a superficial level because person-to-person is so threatening. Envy is a trait of the insecure.

    When you strive to be yourself, there is no competition. To be the best “you” possible is all that required.

  13. Really great post. I’m going to make my wife read it tonight because we talk regularly about how social media can affect our daily moods. I am nearly up on my one-year abstinence from Facebook. It started as a “three month experiment” that ended up being a full year. I didn’t miss it a bit. I am only reactivating my page because it’s sadly the only way to see pictures of my family (particularly my nieces and nephews). Gone are the days when they would email them to us. But I already know FB is not an important part of my life, and my return will only be an occasional moment in my week. Thanks again for this — very inspiring. – Marty

    • Thanks for sharing, Marty. That is exactly why I’m there when I am, to be able to share my boy (and sometimes my own updates) with family and friends who’ve (sadly for me) distilled their communications down to text and FB. I am not surprised you’ve been happy away from it.


  14. I remember waiting for a vehicle ferry beside a river in Bangladesh. There was a village by the loading ramp consisting of mud huts with thatched roofs. Out of one of them in the middle of summer came a villager dressed in a red flannel suit which obviously graced some Santa Claus in a nameless Western country at some stage. How he got to own that suit I’ll never know. It wasn’t the strange garment that got my interest however. This villager gushed happiness. He was the most satisfied person I’ve come across in all my years, and by our standards he had nothing. That certainly gave me something to think about. Why was he happy when I was sweating, dirty and unhappy from travelling around villages? It was an attitude thing! I concluded we in the West have just too many things and they are never enough when we compare what we have with others. We all need to learn from that villager.

  15. Such an honest piece, D. We’re always comparing ourselves and think we can have better… I’ve stopped looking at my Facebook feed for a while now, and just use the chat. I don’t NEED to keep up with everything…just have to make sure I am happy with what I have. Perfectionism? We all can try…especially with writing πŸ˜‰

  16. Your post does bring relief. Happiness is just way too much pressure. I don’t even know exactly what happiness means in real life. Less than ideal is a goal I can deal with.

    • Isn’t that something, Gail, that “happiness is just way too much pressure”? This one got a LoT of views and everyone relates. We’re all having trouble keeping up with whatever we’re supposed to keep up with!

  17. I remember reading, some years ago, that people generally think that they would be happier if they were paid 10 percent more, upon which receiving 10 percent wanted… desire is a powerful thing and properly tamed can do much good. Alas, we let it run and ruin our lives too often.

    • Not surprised by the study. And you put your finger on it. The beast called Desire. Ian and I just finished saying on this board that the more we have, the less content we are. But it isn’t just the material demands we make. Our mental construct – fueled by desire – is askew. It is hunger to satisfy an emptiness. Augustine had it. We have a God-shaped vacuum only He can fill.

  18. Loved this Diana. It seems a pattern of life, everybody wants what they don’t have without realizing the struggle and/or the consequences that may come with the climb. Life isn’t always a bowl of cherries, and the grass isn’t always greener than we perceive. Gratitude begins within ourselves for all that we are and have without comparisons. ❀

  19. Reblogged this on MULIEBRAL VIEWPOINT and commented:
    Before you read the article, read this:
    *HW won out in the argument with her twin The Grammar Mafia and managed to keep the vernacular with the objective pronoun.

    Now you Grammar Fanatics can rest easier during the reading.

  20. When everything in the world screams competition, how can our children learn the lesson they need to learn in life–a lesson that makes living so much easier to endure? We must teach our children that we are not to compare ourselves with each other but only with Jesus himself. β€œFor we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). β€œHow can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44) β€œFor he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29).

  21. I often tell people before they want what others have, be willing to do what they’ve done. But it is human nature to look at others and see their lives as the bar, then you snap out of it and realize every path comes with its own woes. Methinks I fare better with the woes I know than the one’s I don’t!

  22. I love that insightful quote of Botton that love is a skill. It’s so very true. Being 52, I get it but when I was younger I didn’t understand. My elders would tell me love was work and I had no idea what they meant. You just can’t understand until you’ve lived a little. Thank you for your post!

  23. I think I’m even happier than me.

    You post reminds me of the beginning of M. Scott Peck’s book — The Road Less Traveled: β€œLife is difficult. . . . Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.”

    Thanks for the great post.

  24. I’m most thoughtless when I’m happy. I’m sloppy at work, I forget and postpone things, and I’m lazy. The opposite happens when I’m sad, depressed, or hurt. I’m focused and driven when I’m sad. I like being sad.

  25. I appreciate the link to the very interesting article about “why you’ll marry the wrong person.” A friend and I were just talking about how it’s important to get the right advice just in time. Brava on a wonderful post. You won’t ever give up on fairytales but that is what makes life such a delicious adventure.

  26. Just like mainstream media , Facebook users are also selective in their choice of what to upload. As a result , we see a very one-sided and biased perspective of someone’s life. So it’s natural that if you are bombarded with other people’s so called ‘happiness’ , it’s bound to have an adverse effect on some of us.

    • A footnote: I don’t think just seeing others (supposedly) happy makes some people sad. We all have our triggers. You can say something or show me a picture you have no idea will remind me of an old pain.

  27. I believe this is what should be taught in schools, and not unreachable visions of everlasting happiness and perfection. Of course I exaggerate. But your article addresses a key element of our lives which we tend to gloss over or ignore. Well articulated.

  28. I don’t have a Facebook account and don’t plan to. I only look at organizational Facebook pages, not personal FB pages. The organizations are related to cycling. Oh yeh, there is a blog I participate on feminism and fitness.

    Hugs, HWF! You are good enough..and probably way more to others.

  29. No one knows if others feel happy. That’s mistake number one. Mistake number two is going on Facebook. It’s like rubbing sand in our faces! Ha! Best thing to do is make a list of things that make you feel happy and doing at least one a day.

  30. Thank you for bringing up the de Botton article, Holistic Wayfarer. He made a lot of great points, as did you. Thank you, as well, for the blog ‘like’! : )

  31. You captured perfectly the feelings we can get when we start comparing ourselves to a perceived view of others. We live, love, and laugh the best when we stop comparing and simply live! Thanks for the reminder backed up by a well-thought-out post in the HW style! πŸ™‚

  32. Beautifully said, and true. As always! So glad to come here for wisdom, kindness, and comfort. Since we’re all destined to wallow in our human ignorance and imperfection, it’s amazingly reassuring to be reminded that we never do so alone!!
    Big hugs your way, darling.

  33. Great post! “Good enough” has kept me happily (as realistically happy as marriage can be) twenty plus years. It does take hard work and sacrifice.
    Those Disney princesses have no idea what their future holds!!!

  34. Wonderful post Diana. Happiness is indeed elusive, but as I’ve reached the age I am, I believe that I’m quite content with my lot, be it good or bad. I do use Facebook and don’t find it depressing. Maybe I would have in my younger years – you see, there are advantages to growing older! Other people’s lives may look happier than your own, but that is only the public persona.

  35. I think #4 is a really important one, Diana. It’s a given that we are all human, and I’m not sure where we got it into our heads that perfect humans exist. I’d argue that it’s from our myriad flaws that the potential for great love exists, specifically because imperfection deepens our longing. Love is painful and full of disappointment and compromise and commitment, joy and selfless compassion. We learn to love in spite of and there’s great poignancy in that.

  36. @>}—>–>>——————–


    Even the serpent tricked Eve into thinking God had it better than her… that she needed what God had. She couldn’t just trust God and be blanked with such peace.

  37. Diana I agree about Facebook I tend not to stay there for too long especially over xmas. I love the family christmas shots (I don’t put my children on my page I respect their privacy.) But time and time again I see the photo’s of what people received for xmas and I have to shut down.

    There will always someone who is younger, more talented, richer, smarter, prettier, thinner than I. And so I shut my phone off and live in the moments with the ones I love. Ps there will always be people in worse situations than I as well. Thats how I deal with Facebook. I just watched a short talk on the millennium generation and how Facebook is creating a false world where everyone is pretending to be happy. But the truth is we all go through tough stuff and this generation is struggling to create real relationships and realistic goals for life. i hope 2017 is a wonderful and happy year for you and your family.

    • Thx for sharing, K. I’m not there much and I enjoy the happy updates of family and good friends. It’s more the acquaintances whose digital paths have crossed mine whose posts, I discovered, disturb places deep within that haven’t healed.

      “this generation is struggling to create real relationships and realistic goals for life.” Well articulated. I hope our children keep on solid ground.

      • Mine already understand the fake happiness behind FB, the selfie obsessions etc My daughter told me kids are moving to snapchat, so there will always be something. But yes if we keep them grounded I have no doubt they will see through what ever is in their path.

      • Snapchat??? Gee…and notice…everything has to happen in a snap. I just may chk in with you(r kiddos) to keep abreast of the social media evolution, as T is fairly sheltered from all that in the homeschooling. I appreciate this thoughtful thread.


  38. Of course, we may learn not to be deceived by the ‘happiness’ people post on Facebook or which is displayed in other places like adverts, PR etc … and once we realise ‘love’ is not romance, (it is more like the opposite of romance!) that’s helpful too … Thankfully, I suspect also that using Facebook as I do – in professional groups, not primarily to showcase my life/observe others showcasing theirs, it is possible not to pine for what one has not got (except when someone talks about their fabulous number of book sales, of course!)

  39. Pingback: I can relate much to this. :) – heart2heart@wordpress.com

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