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Everything in Life is Relative!


By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
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Though it defies common sense, Olympians are often more elated that they won a bronze medal than a silver one. Yet, their reaction makes sense once you realize how strongly our emotions are influenced by our expectations and by the comparisons we make.

Athletes who win silver often experience it as losing the gold. “I almost made it… I should have made it… If not for the tiniest fraction of a point… If not for a judge’s biased score… If only… If only… If only…” And the disappointment continues to swell.

In contrast, athletes who win bronze often experience it as distinguishing themselves from all the other contenders who will return home without a medal. Placing third means you stand on the podium to be recognized as one of the greatest athletes in the world. You gain far more prestige and recognition than the athlete whose score was just one fraction of a point behind you. How lucky can you get!

Yes, the way we experience life is relative. Or, as Albert Einstein put it, “When you’re courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second; when you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity!”

It’s not only in competitive games that our assessments are relative; it’s in almost all aspects of life. The oysters that are delicious for you are disgusting to me. The purple hair you view as so au courant is so absurd to me. The way you communicate online is posh to you, yet it’s pointless to me. The time you spend courting fame and fortune is so arousing to you, yet it’s fizzle and flop to me.

Yes, everything in life is relative. How you perceive what’s happening in your life (or someone else’s life) is highly affected by understanding the context in which it occurs.

Here are two examples:

  1. “It’s amazing,” said Jean, “last month, when I learned I had cancer, I sank into a deep depression. Yesterday, when I learned that my cancer hadn’t spread, I felt elated. Though I still need surgery and chemo, I’ll get through it! I’m so appreciative for my new lease on life.” All is relative, even in health matters.
  2. “We’re struggling financially,” gripes Debbie. “$75,000 is just not enough for a family to live on. Each year, our credit card debt increases. At the rate we’re going, we’ll never be solvent. How are we ever going to manage?”

    In contrast, Elaine says, “Thank God, we’ve got no money problems. My husband’s a good provider. He makes $75,000. Our family is not rich but we’ve got so much more than my parents ever had. I feel blessed.”

All is relative, even in money matters.

  • Want to feel like a loser? Go for the gold, then judge yourself as a failure when you only achieve silver.
  • Want to live your life in a funk? Make sure your expectations consistently exceed your reach and your reality.
  • Want to get easily agitated? Size yourself up with all those people who are richer, smarter, healthier, better looking and more athletic than you. That’ll do it!

Or, perhaps you ….

  • Want to feel like a winner? Appreciate who you are, what you have, what you’ve achieved!
  • Want to live your days with joy? Squash those pie-in-the sky expectations! Pull the plug on those crippling comparisons!
  • Want to treasure your life? Spend time doing what you like to do, being with people you enjoy, learning new endeavors that excite you!

Or, as Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Copyright © 2019: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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