A person thinking about unfairness in life as they look out the window to a snowy neighborhood.

Do you feel like life is unfair? How do you deal with unfairness?

Wayne W. Dyer says that seeing something as unfair comes from comparison. When others are getting what you want, then you feel the need to even it out.

Learn how to deal with unfairness in life.

Stop Seeking Fairness

In his book Your Erroneous Zones, Dyer contends that it’s commendable to learn how to deal with unfairness in life, but it becomes self-defeating when it makes you feel negative emotions like rage, apprehension, and bitterness—these all get in the way of your happiness. For example, you might be miserable at work because you think it’s unfair that your coworker gets the same pay as you despite working fewer hours. Or you might be exhausted trying to repay every favor friends do for you.

(Shortform note: If you’re seeking fairness, how can you tell what’s “fair” to begin with? In a broader sense, determining what’s just or unjust can be complicated. In A Theory of Justice, political philosopher John Rawls explains that justice is the goal underlying the rules of society—but there’s no universal sense of justice that all societies agree on. He argues that people can and should determine the distribution of social goods (like rights and wealth) through reason and logic. This idea is the underpinning of his theory of “justice as fairness,” which allows for basic human rights, some degree of social and economic equality, and a safety net for more vulnerable members of society.)

Dyer argues that people hold onto this erroneous zone because it gives them an excuse to seek revenge to right an injustice, even if it means doing something wrong. For example, you might be upset that your partner dumped you for someone else, so you seek “fairness” by spreading private messages between the two of you without their consent—you justify your bad behavior with their bad behavior. 

(Shortform note: How do you know where to draw the line between fighting unfairness and doing something wrong? In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, the authors advise reflecting on your ethics to consider how far you’re willing to go to achieve your purpose. To do this, think about two factors when choosing a course of action: 1) the scope of harm to others, and 2) the scope of harm to yourself.)

How to Stop Seeking Fairness

Here’s how you can overcome this erroneous zone, according to Dyer:

1) Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing yourself to someone else means you’re placing your happiness in the hands of an external force—you can only be happy if you feel like you have what they have. Recognize your unique value, embrace your strengths, and work on your weaknesses so you can advance toward your goals without the distraction and negative feelings that come from comparison. 

(Shortform note: In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says you can recognize your unique value and increase your sense of self by being creative—for example, by drawing or writing. Since no one else can express their creativity in the same way as you, you’ll be able to see that your creative talents reflect a part of you that’s individual and incomparable.)

2) Be comfortable with scales tipping to one side. Rid yourself of the “eye for an eye” mindset, whether that means revenge or repaying someone’s kindness. (Shortform note: Thinking that everything should always be an equal amount of give and take might be especially unhealthy in marriage, where score-keeping can be counterproductive. Brown instead advocates communicating how much energy each of you has to give and adjusting who should give more support at a given time. For example, if your wife is busy trying to start her own business, you might have to take on more of the household responsibilities.)

3) Act. Rather than wallow in misery about unfairness, do something. For example, if you’re unhappy that your coworker is paid more than you are, ask for a raise or look for a higher-paying job. (Shortform note: If what’s bringing you down isn’t unfairness in your life but unfairness in society in general—for example, the lack of food and shelter for a neighboring community—it can feel overwhelming. In this case, acting might look like: educating yourself about the issues you care about, sharing educational resources on social media, and donating money to organizations that support your cause.)

How to Deal With Unfairness in Life: Stop Comparing Yourself

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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