In my second year of undergrad college, we had to pick our major. Many students wanted to major in Psychology, but sadly, there were only a few seats. The competition was so strong, you could see the stress on our faces just so that we’d get the right number of marks to secure a seat at the proverbial (study)table.
Now one would think that a psychology course would emphasise cooperation over competition, but when has that ever been the case when it comes to our education system? It felt like the Hunger Games - only survival of the (intellectually) fittest. The competition got so extreme that when we eventually found our way to our third year, one of our teachers did bonding exercises to help us work together for group projects.
What I remember from back in the day (apart from being overwhelmed all the time) is feeling lonely.
Sometimes, I think the way our world is structured is quite odd and counterintuitive. All our lives we have been taught to compete; to be better than the rest, to get that A grade, that first rank, get into a top university, find a coveted job, wish for a promotion, work for that crazy figure paycheck. All of this just so that we can live happier.
The messaging within and around us is to live a happy life, get lots of money, succeed, succeed, in fact, succeed at all costs, all while being insanely productive. In actuality, these are leading us off course. It’s not that we’re not working hard to become happier, we’re putting in the work, yes, but we’re just doing it wrong. It’s difficult to foster connections in an incredibly competitive environment. No connections means (more) loneliness. Loneliness that leads to poor mental and physical health and performance.
So the next time you feel that you’ve been faultily programmed to compete, here are a few things to remember:
- Deciding what to invest in: We've all been told that getting into a good college is crucial for landing a well-paying job and ultimately, achieving happiness. And sure, if you're struggling to make ends meet or don't have basic necessities like food and shelter, money becomes a top priority. Having more money can indeed bring happiness, but there comes a point where it starts to lose its significance. In fact, investing our time and effort in things like building social connections, helping others, or pursuing meaningful activities that go beyond the daily grind of work can bring us just as much, if not more, fulfilment. In simpler terms, it's important to recognize that while money matters, it's not the only thing that matters in life.
- Sleep and other things physical health: I like to imagine a world where we were rewarded for getting approx. 8 hours of sleep, eating right and getting our daily physical activity. It’s the only way we would realise the importance of this and how much of a non-negotiable these are. How many times have we compromised on sleep? We often cut sleep time just to be more productive. Did you know that approximately 60% of behavioural issues can be solved with sleep? Well, now you do.
- Perception of what you can do with your life: In my therapy room, I often watch people picking careers that take them away from their family and friends, compromising their core values because of the paycheck. It’s sad because research shows that having a job is necessary to meet our needs but after a certain point, the extra zeros aren’t going to matter. What will? Those social connections.
So, it's about time we take a step back and rethink our messed-up programming. Instead of constantly competing with each other, let's give cooperation, balance, and well-being the spotlight in our quest for an awesome life. We need to put some serious effort into forging genuine connections, looking after our physical health, and choosing careers that actually align with our values.
That way, we can break free from this never-ending race and actually discover what true happiness and fulfilment are all about. It's time to ditch the excessive competition and embrace a more contented way of living.