Perspective Zoom and a tale of two arrows.

Perspective Zoom and a tale of two arrows.



Nothing is ever as bad as it seems
Nothing is ever as good as it seems
No matter how bad your life is, others have it worse
No matter how good your life is, other have it better.

When we ruminate on what we don't have, what others do have or what it is want, we fall into the grass is always greener fallacy. To compare with our next door neighbour, colleague, friends or our future selves creates an environment of ill-being.

Boyce et al 2010 showed after a very modest level, earning more money will only make us happier if we become better off than our neighbours.

Olympic Silver medalists are generally less happy than bronze medalists, a finding attributed to being so close but not quite good enough whilst bronze medalists can see they almost went away with nothing (Medec et al, 1995)

When adolescents, move to a more affluent neighbourhood there is a related increase in depression, social phobia, aggression, and conflict with fathers and mothers (Nieuwenhuis et al, 2017)

This is all crazy, we compare ourselves into a state of ill-being.

Back to perspective.

When I talk of perspective it is not from a place of ignoring where we are at, we all still have fundamental needs from food, shelter, safety and water and even more importantly to most of the world who have basic needs met - connection, love, and control.

The last three are important issues for all, even in our "privileged societies".
That said all three of these needs are available in abundance, yet due to zoomed in view of the world right now we tend to only see what we don't have and what others do have.

Now more than ever we need some distance to see clearly.

There is a zen story of the two arrows.

A wise sage tells his student...
"Imagine being struck by an arrow, it would hurt right?"
"Of course"
"Even if we did our best to avoid being struck, it has now happened. But If you had the power to avoid getting struck again, would you take it?"
"Of course"
"So why do you choose to lay there and get hit by the second and the third?"

Let's look at the meaning here.

This first arrow represents our current situation, e.g. COVID. It is here, we are isolated, we are no longer seeing life normally, that is out of our control.

The second arrow represents how we react to the first arrow, the pain and grief we create through our rumination and comparisons.

We can not avoid the first arrow, but with a little perspective distance and action we can prevent further strikes on our well-being.

Back to here and now...

Creating Distance

If we can all zoom out a little, we can see events unfold around us, we can watch from a different place, from a little distance, both physically and psychologically.
Psychological distancing comes in many forms:

  • What will this look like in 1 years time (clock time)
  • What does this look like from the sky (physical distance)
  • What can WE do to deal with this (I - We)
  • What does this look like from someone else's shoes (I - You)
Physical Distancing comes in many forms:
  • What can I do to add to my wellbeing?
  • Can I move a little more?
  • Can I eat and sleep well?
  • Can I do something fort someone else who is worse off than me?

Let's all zoom out a little, we have dealt with hardship in the past, we will again in the future, if it is not this, it would be something else....


Thanks for reading, if you have any comments, thoughts suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

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Until next time.

Be well


J. Boyce, G. D.A. Brown, S. C. Moore. Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction. Psychological Science, 2010;

Medvec VH, Madey SF, & Gilovich T (1995). When less is more: counterfactual thinking and satisfaction among Olympic medalists. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69 (4), 603-10

Nieuwenhuis, J., van Ham, M., Yu, R. et al. Being Poorer Than the Rest of the Neighborhood: Relative Deprivation and Problem Behavior of Youth. J Youth Adolescence 46, 1891–1904 (2017).

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