Humans don’t really need to be the best in the world to function happily. There are many world champions who are unhappy, proving the point. What we do need, is to not feel too bad about ourselves. A lot of suffering is caused by a kind of self-criticism, a nagging feeling that, somehow, we, or what we do, is not good enough.
WE DON’T NEED TO BE CHAMPIONS
In fact, world champions have a disadvantage in the happiness stakes. They are so used to high standards, that they are very vulnerable to self-esteem damage if they don’t meet them. Legitimately, a champion will hold themselves to account for improvements they need to make. But it is easy to slip into negative self-talk, which is much less functional.
WE NATURALLY ASSESS SELF AND OTHERS
We have a set of standards we assess ourselves and others by. We assess bodies; we assess minds; we assess behaviour. This is normal. It helps us to make decisions about friendships and alliances. In our evolution, no doubt, it helped us to ally ourselves with able bodies, acute minds, and behaviour which defended us and repelled danger.
WE NEED TO ADAPT TO LIFE WITHOUT EXTREME DANGER
But we live in a society largely free of deep threat from others. This means that humans can afford to tolerate each other to a greater degree. There is no need to assess self and others in quite such a strict fashion. We can accept all bodies, however much or little they fit some projected ideal of how a body should be. And we can accept all minds, however atypical some of them appear to be. This acceptance includes our own body and mind.
BUT WE STILL NEED ACCOUNTABILITY
We still need behavioural standards, both for our own protection, and for the care of others. Rules and guidelines help us to live consistently, and to provide some safe continuity in our social group. Therefore, accepting all bodies and minds does not mean failing to hold self and others accountable.
FEELING ‘GOOD ENOUGH’
In this context, what is ‘feeling good enough’? It is accepting who and where we are right now, but at the same time holding ourselves sufficiently accountable to choose a reasonable next action. We don’t need destructive self-talk, but we do need to be self-accountable enough to call ourselves to action.
Many people suffer from a nagging feeling that they are somehow not good enough.
The assessment of self and others is natural. In our evolutionary history, it probably helped us defend ourselves against danger. But now the danger is less acute. We still need some accountability, but we don’t all need to be champions.
We can accept the body and mind we wake with. At the same time, we can hold ourselves accountable for trying to live well and wisely. Those two things, self-acceptance and practical wisdom, are extremely valuable for mental health.