How Our Definition of Special Hurts Us

We all grow up wanting to feel special.  We are taught to desire specialness by our culture, especially media.  And there are some common ways we’re taught to see specialness.  Little girls see it in romantic movies where a man makes a woman feel like she’s the only creature in the universe.  Little boys see it in games in which winning is the only goal.  In general, we are taught to find specialness by comparing ourselves to others. 

But comparison is a losing battle that only leaves us feeling dissatisfied with ourselves.  When we play the endless comparing game, we find ourselves feeling anything but special.  If we base our specialness on our appearance, we must face the fact that our society devalues our looks as we age.  If we base our specialness on winning, we find ourselves frustrated when we do not always win.  If we base our specialness on intelligence, we’ll feel stupid if we think someone is smarter than us.  If we base our specialness on success, we'll wonder whether we've really achieved enough.  Not only will we feel insecure when we compare ourselves to others, but we’ll also seek to diminish them.  We'll cut them down privately or to their faces.  We'll struggle with feelings of jealousy, desperately trying to justify why we are "better" than them.  In fact, one of the definitions of "special" in Merriam-Webster is “better or more important than others.” 

But what if instead we used another definition found in Merriam-Webster: "distinguished by some unusual quality."  If we change our idea of special to this definition, we can learn to appreciate both ourselves and others.  Every being on this planet is different.  We are all similar in some ways but also distinguished by our unusual qualities. What is different about us adds variety to life and makes it more interesting.  It may sound like a cliché but if everyone were the same, wouldn't that truly be boring? So instead of playing the comparison game, what if we instead appreciated ourselves and others for our unique qualities?  Because just what is being "better" than someone else anyway.  Everything is in the eye of the beholder, not just beauty.

And if we continue to play the comparison game, we will find there is no winning.  We'll end up constantly bringing other people down and in turn, bringing ourselves down.  And in the end, we'll never reach that feeling of "specialness" that we so desperately wanted.  We will find ourselves constantly wondering if we are good enough instead of appreciating the best parts of ourselves.  Once when trying to compare my experience with what an experience was "supposed to be like," a friend said to me "comparison is the enemy of joy." And he was right.  The constant comparison was ruining my ability to enjoy my own unique take on the experience.

So let's change our idea of what makes us special.  Don't let the comparison game steal your joy.