How to stop making ourselves unhappy by comparing with others

Human beings are unhappy not because they have less but because someone else has more. Who has never felt envious or jealous of others? We all have.

Comparing ourselves with others is a recipe for unhappiness. Yet, we can’t stop our mind from going down that path. How can we change our thinking and stop creating unhappiness for ourselves?

Here is a step-by-step process based on cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.

STEP 1: Catch the thought

Let me use a hypothetical example for illustration: You see your classmate Roshan sharing on LinkedIn that he is “Forbes 30 under 30” and his startup got funded $30 million by Accel. You now feel like a loser and your mood spirals down.

Whenever you find that you are comparing yourself with others, the first step is to capture that thought. You could say to yourself, “I am getting the thought that Roshan was not half as good as me in college, and yet, he is so successful while I am doing a run-of-the-mill job. He is so lucky but I never have any luck. This is so unfair.”

By the way, even though this step looks simple, sometimes it can be tricky as these thoughts may arise without conscious awareness. The trick is to notice what thoughts went through your mind whenever you see your mood dropping.

Now, write down your thoughts on a notepad, breaking them down into their components. See an illustration below.


1. Roshan is very successful.

2. Roshan was not as deserving as me and got lucky.

3. I am mostly unlucky. Life is unfair to me.

Next, write down the assumptions underlying these thoughts. Ask yourself, “Why does this comparison bother me? Why does Roshan’s success make me feel bad?” That will point you to the assumptions underlying your thoughts. Write them down. Please see below an illustration.


1. If Roshan is successful, it makes me more of a failure.

2. Success is about becoming a well-funded entrepreneur.

3. If I am ‘behind Roshan’, I will always be behind.

4. If I am less successful than Roshan, I will be less happy or even outright unhappy. Happiness and success are zero-sum games.

STEP 2: Evaluate the thoughts and assumptions objectively by looking for evidence supporting or opposing each statement. Here is an example (the evidence is in bullet points below each statement):


1. Roshan is very successful.

  • This seems to be fairly accurate though startup success is not guaranteed even if you get funding.

2. Roshan was not as deserving as you and got lucky.

  • Do you know how hard he had to work? Was it luck or did he slog a lot?
  • Do you know how much he struggled before achieving success? Chances are, you ignored all these points. When you consider this, you may realize that Roshan paid a heavy price for his success.

3. You are mostly unlucky. And life is unfair to you.

  • List out the situations you have been lucky. E.g., family, personal life, success in exams, career, sports, etc. Do you have talents other people don’t have? What makes you special?
  • Does it still look like you are usually unlucky?
  • Also, does Roshan’s being lucky make you unlucky? Can’t you both be lucky?
  • Did Roshan take a big risk to achieve success? If so, then is it luck or just an outcome of taking big risks?


1. If Roshan is successful, it makes me more of a failure.

  • This does not seem accurate. Success is not a zero-sum game. In fact, if he is successful, he might help you someday.

2. Success is about becoming a well-funded entrepreneur.

  • Is this true? Are there other career formats that are successful? Would you call a good doctor or professor or scientist successful? Explore these thoughts and jot down what you think.

3. If I am ‘behind Roshan’, I will always be behind.

  • This is also not accurate. Most startups succeed in just a few years, often overtaking well-established companies.
  • Is Roshan more successful than some who were considered successful in the past?
  • Is success a race? (You will have to reflect and find your personal answer to this question.)

4. If I am less successful than Roshan, I will be less happy or even outright unhappy. Happiness and success are zero-sum games.

  • Is this true? Are successful people happier? Can you talk to some people and find out? Or can you learn about this from other people (e.g., online research)?

STEP 3: Summarize and reframe

Now summarize your old thoughts and reframe your new thoughts. Please see an example below:

Old thoughts and assumptions: Roshan is more successful than me though he is less deserving. I am a failure and always unlucky.

New thought: Roshan might have worked hard, taken risks, and gone through pain that I am unaware of. His success does not make me less successful but might even help me. My route to success might be different but I can find my own path and happiness.

Remember: Whatever you write should be what you find accurate and authentic. You don’t have to be politically correct but you have to be honest with yourself.

Sometimes, you might feel that you are not able to think clearly. Then talk to a friend you trust and ask how they would think about it.

STEP 4: Read this often

Whenever you feel a pang of comparison and envy, read the above reframing of your thoughts. The more you read it, the more it will get wired in your brain. There is a principle in neuroscience called ‘survival of the busiest.’ The neural pathways used most frequently become strengthened whereas those that are not being used as much become weaker.

So repeating this thought will create conviction and start changing your subconscious mind.

STEP 5: Loving-kindness meditation

Change your heart and wish others success. It will only make you feel better, not worse.

What I am going to tell you now may feel jarring but I promise – it works (I have tried it).

When we feel envious or jealous of others, we are thinking of them as rivals or someone who is not aligned with us. But if we are their well-wishers, we can’t also be jealous of them at the same time. So in this meditation practice, send your unconditional good wishes to them and wish them well.

Here is a guided meditation track you can use – it is from Sharon Salzberg, one of my favorite meditation teachers. Jealousy is a toxin and this meditation is a wonderful antidote.

STEP 6: Have goals that energize you

Do you know when we focus on others and ruminate? When our own life feels a bit empty. So fill your life with meaningful goals and challenges.

What do you want to achieve? What skills do you want to pick up?

Read books, do online courses, work on side projects – do things that give you a sense of fulfillment. If you are busy doing things you love, your mind will bother less about what others are doing.

On a side note, these days I am learning Python programming, a bit of data science, cognitive behavior therapy, and scrum (project management). These things make me excited about the day even on days when things are not looking that great. It truly helps.

Follow the process I have shared above. It is a bit of work but it is based on hard science and will change how your mind thinks.

Do give it a shot. Thank you for reading.



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