I probably don’t go a week without hearing some form of this complaint — life is unfair. It’s usually in the form of:
“I can’t believe this happened to me! Why do bad things always seem to happen to me!?”
“I’m a special person, why shouldn’t I be treated like someone special?”
“Why does everyone else seem to succeed where all I can do is fail?”
“I didn’t make the team/get the job/get asked out on a second date/get any of the attention my other siblings got.”
You see how it goes. On and on, we don’t run out of examples of where we believe we’ve been untreated unfairly in life.
Here’s how I try and look at it though — life is a never-ending game of learning. When something bad happens to you (or when something good doesn’t happen to you), it may not just be something bad happening to you. It might be a chance to learn something new — about yourself, about the way the world works, about someone else’s feelings toward you.
This seems kind of like a “No duh” sort of observation. But if it were so obvious, why do so many people engage in this kind of irrational thinking throughout their lives? As a child, I can understand it. But as an adult, it seems like we get stuck in this childlike way of thinking.
Psychologists call this “irrational thinking” or a “cognitive distortion.” This specific distortion of our thoughts is called the Fallacy of Fairness. It basically says that somewhere in our head, we sometimes think like a child that all of life “should be fair.” Whether it should be a certain way or not is largely besides the point — because it isn’t.
Life is unfair. So now what?
You can spend all of your energy and time stuck in that recurring thought (about how unfair life is), or you can accept that general truism — that no way can the universe keep a universal, balanced tally for everybody at all times — and ask yourself, “So what do I do now?”
One of the keys to overcoming cognitive distortions is to identify them as you’re telling yourself one. By identifying these irrational thoughts, you’ll be in a better position to answer them in the future. You might, for instance, thing you’re only thinking this way once in awhile. Imagine your surprise to see yourself thinking this way 4 or 5 times a day!
Once you start tracking how often you’re doing it, then you can start answering them. We have a step-by-step guide on how to fix cognitive distortions like “life is unfair” that you can follow.
Life is indeed unfair. Once you accept that basic and unfortunate aspect of living, you can move on to the next step — and energize yourself to move forward. Imagine all of the energy you’ll be saving from not having this particular thought always running around in your head any more!
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Dec 2009
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2010). Life is Unfair. Now What?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/01/02/life-is-unfair-now-what/