“When we think forward a few years and picture ourselves in a better position, we are making a comparison of our present self with our future self, and this provides us with our sense of purpose. But when those few years have passed, and if we now enjoy that improved standing, what do we do? Do we look back to our younger self and feel happy that we have moved forward? Very rarely. Instead we look around our peer group now, and compare ourselves with those who are doing a little better than us. And again we find ourselves lacking.” — From A Book of Secrets by Derren Brown (view my summary).
We are prone to playing the comparison game. It seems as though we are only ever looking forward to what we lack, rather than back at what we had.
Seneca’s writings might offer an antidote to this problem. He advises us to separate natural desires from unnatural ones, claiming the latter only result in greater cravings. Defining natural desires as having an end and unnatural desires as always leaving something ahead, Seneca writes:
“Whenever you want to know whether the desire aroused in you by something you are pursuing is natural or quite unseeing, ask yourself whether it is capable of coming to rest at any point; if after going a long way there is always something remaining farther away, be sure it is not something natural.”