Comparing yourself to other people is a downer. Research shows that it lowers happiness, and it’s easy to see why: We tend to measure our worst compared to everyone else’s best.
How can our failures compete with someone else’s successes?
And the game never ends. I see it in myself and I see it with my clients. The behavior separates us and leaves us feeling bad about ourselves. This is true whenever I feel most competitive, but disappears when the scorekeeping stops.
Being a bit neurotic as a child, team competitions always made me anxious. I discovered the crazy-fun of team athletics when I watched my disabled son Porter and his best friend Sam play.
When Porter was 15 he joined the Miracle League baseball team. Miracle League is a team of kids with disabilities, where each player is partnered with a non-disabled peer.
No one keeps score in Miracle League. We often lost track of the innings.
We drove across Minneapolis to a special field where the National Anthem played from a boom box. A boy in ear phones held the microphone and said he would give us a “Movies Minute” before we started.
He rattled off trivia from 1940s starting with, “Who played Gig Young in the 1942 movie “The Gay Sisters”?
“Hint, people. No one is really gay in the movie.”
Longer silence. He finally gave us the answer, but it was overshadowed by a mic malfunction. Then a helper dog got loose, and four of the kids chased him around the bases.
I still wonder who Gig was.
There was a lot of chaotic cheering and confusion at the games. Every player got to bat and run the bases, whether or not they hit a fair ball. Or if they even hit the ball.
We came to the field for the first time in late Spring, and Porter played in the outfield. In theory he was there to catch the fly balls, though homeruns were sparse and things got tedious.
A few minutes into the game I saw him on the ground doing snow angels. His buddy, a six-foot two varsity baseball player, got down on the ground and joined him.
In the last game of the season Porter played third base. The batter hit and ran for first; the crowd cheered. Porter abandoned his field position and broke into a jog. He ran the bases, his buddy in tow.
There was no one covering third base as the batter – and Porter – went round. The batter crossed home plate with Porter close behind.
He stumbled toward the dugout, looked at me and smiled.
“Good job, Porter!” he screamed, and high-fived the catcher.
When you stop keeping score, life is a different ballgame. Getting into the moment and making snow angels in the outfield, or turning a foul ball into a home run, relieves us of the pressure of comparison.
Maybe we all need to join Miracle League.