“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Who do you most frequently compare yourself to?
If you’re not sure, try this question: Who have you compared yourself to in the last 24 hours?
If you’re still not sure, think of the last time you checked your Facebook or Instagram feed. Which updates made you feel envious, or made you feel as if your life paled in comparison? In turn, did any posts make you feel smug, or better than that person?
The comparison game—or, war—is as old as humanity.
Back to Roosevelt’s quote about comparison being the thief of joy. In addition to cultivating awareness with respect to inadvertently (or advertently) provoking comparison and therefore stealing the joy of others, become a student of how you squander your own contentedness by getting sucked into the comparison trap.
Here are some tips:
1. Become aware of, and avoid your triggers.
Start noticing the situations that cause you to play the comparison game. Social media, as I’ve mentioned, is a big one for most of us. What about other circumstances? Is there a certain person who is constantly bragging about this or that, or asks you questions about your life that are designed to make you feel inferior? Are there certain activities, like seeing someone who appears successful and has it all together, that frequently make you feel discontented with your life (when you were feeling just fine about your life, an hour before)?
Make a list of who and what you frequently envy or compare yourself to. Write how each negatively affects you, and why it’s actually a waste of your time. Resolve to catch yourself next time. Avoid comparison triggers if you can, especially if the activity or contact doesn’t add meaning or any real value to your life. Then utilize your insecurities to show you areas that need attention in your life so you don’t keep getting stuck. Mostly, know your intrinsic value and allow your gifts and talents to grow and mature.
2. Remind yourself that other people’s “outsides” can’t be compared to your “insides”
This is such a helpful habit to cultivate. Unless you’re really close to someone, you can’t use their outward appearance to judge the reality of their life. People carefully curate the social media versions of their lives, and do the same with the lives they live out publicly. You may have had the experience of being shocked when a couple that appeared to be happy and solid announce their divorce. Continue to wish others well, of course, but in the event that their life gives you reason to feel bad about yours, remind yourself that you don’t actually know what goes on behind closed doors. Be grateful for all you are. You have all you need to become all you were intended to be.
3. Repeat whenever necessary: “Money doesn’t buy happiness,joy, and peace, and never will.”
It’s well established that wealth, beyond having the basics in life, isn’t associated with increased happiness or well-being. Money and things provide temporary boosts of joy; their inevitable inability to provide lasting sustenance is usually more disappointing than anything else. There are indeed blessings associated with having money…. largely giving it to others… using it to help others.
4. Be grateful for the good in your life, and resist any lies that shout “It’s not enough”
If you commit yourself to being deeply grateful for what’s good in your life, and remind yourself of it daily, you’ll be far less vulnerable to comparison and envy. If someone or something triggers that ugly feeling of negative comparison, stop and remind yourself of what’s good in your life, right now. There is so much!
5. Use comparison as motivation to improve what actually matters.
This human propensity to want what others have is a waste of time, unless what you see and “covet” in another is something of deep worth, such as their generosity or kindness. Who do you admire? What kinds of comparisons might actually be healthy for you? For example, if you compare yourself to someone you admire because they build others up, create other prosperous leaders, or are kind, or demonstrate other admirable traits, that can help motivate you to grow and mature in kind. Who inspires you to live better, in the way that matters most? Spend your precious time and thoughts on this, instead.
Imagine if you could elevate the comparison game to a useful art form. Stop falling prey to its dark underbelly, which does little more than increase feelings of misery and lack in your life. Use comparison, instead, to become a better person and maybe even make your little corner of the world a better place.
Finally, I always say it this way; Identify… don’t compare. Comparing tends to minimize the good you possess, and inflate the good others possess.
Identifying with others helps you see the good in both, discover areas you can improve or change, and builds both parties up.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”
Adapted article by Dr. Susan Biali Haas/BH