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There’s a deep-seated cultural bias towards believing it’s best to be normal.
We all carry this bias in one way or another, no matter how exceptional, renegade, or original we might think ourselves to be. It starts as early as pre-school age. Children tease other children relentlessly over features, characteristics, or behaviors they consider abnormal. This makes parents want their children to be “normal” too, so they don’t get teased or bullied.
Even as adults, without even thinking, we constantly, and often unconsciously, compare ourselves to others, consider how different we are from the norm, and conclude whether or not we’re normal.
There are, I suppose, some species survival reasons for this. When it comes to biological factors, straying too far from normal can cause undesired consequences: being too fat or too thin can cause health risks; having blood pressure that’s too high or too low does the same. When we take our infant to the pediatrician, we’re told whether or not she is above or below normal in height and weight. Researchers trying to measure outcomes to determine if they are statistically significant must always identify what’s average, or normal.
But here’s my problem with worrying about what’s normal.
It makes us compare ourselves with others way more than is healthy, and as Teddy Roosevelt is supposed to have said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
The Internet is a fabulous source of information, but it astronomically multiplies our exposure to blog posts and articles by supposed experts telling us how to accomplish the things that will make us happy and successful (fill in the blanks: get healthier, lose weight, make more money, wear certain clothes, blah, blah, blah). And no, the irony of writing this in my own blog post has not escaped me. But we read these things and we immediately get thrown into a scarcity mentality: I’m not healthy enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not wealthy enough, I don’t have the right clothes. More insidious is the “bright shiny object syndrome” which convinces us the key to everything good in life is one e-course, book, or webinar away.
But happiness researchers are, thankfully, beginning to remind us to cherish our uniqueness. They urge us to pay attention to what makes us happy or fulfilled and spend less time comparing ourselves to others. Writing in the April 2015 issue of Success Magazine, Shawn Achor advises, “One size does not fit all when it comes to happiness…Average is an imaginary line we draw in the data to make sweeping generalizations…While science gives the big picture, no one has published a study on you. So if you feel a new personal-development strategy isn’t working out for you, don’t give up! Try something new.” (Online version: “What Happiness Habits Are Right For You?”)
Bravo! I agree completely.
How do you break free from the pull to be normal when it’s not serving you well?