Comparison, the Thief of Joy

In a world of brand names, popular culture, cliques, and the fear of missing out, the habit of comparing ourselves to others really takes hold.

"Comparisons are odious," states a 15th century proverb pirated by Cervantes, Marlowe, and others, and humorously misquoted by Shakespeare as "Comparisons are odorous."  In other words, they stink.


Yet we constantly make them.

Either we're prone to comparing ourselves with others in a way that helps us feel superior:  "Wow, I'd never wear that!"  "I'd be a blimp if I ate what she's eating!"  "I would never deal with my kids that way!"

Or we compare in ways that denigrate and belittle ourselves.  We watch a decorating show on TV and decide that our home is comparatively ugly and outdated.  We glance at a fashion magazine and decide that we're hopelessly fat, unattractive, and unchic.  We follow someone's Instagram feed and feel stupid and uncreative compared with their perfect-looking posts.

These comparisons leave us feeling needy and unworthy, and our culture steps right into that emptiness to sell us a solution.  That's right, we're told we can buy our way out of those negative feelings.  The right clothes, shoes, hairstyle, car, fitness equipment, or furniture and housewares will make up for the ways in which we're lacking, and all credit cards are accepted!

Comparisons – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Comparison is fine if you're trying to make a choice between two or more options.  And sometimes comparison inspires us toward self-improvement.  But the habit of comparing ourselves with others is almost never productive.  It usually leads to jealousy, dissatisfaction, and dislike.

If we want to be happy, dropping his habit of comparison is a step in the right direction.  Far better to accept our differences and learn to make the best of what we have, to find our personal strengths and build on those.  

I don't know anything about video, and would have no idea how to go about creating a podcast (besides, I don't like to look at myself on camera).  I don't come close to measuring up in that way.  This could make me feel hopeless or depressed, like a failure as a blogger.  But if I look at my strengths, I see that I'm a pretty good writer, and I regularly produce useful, honest posts.  I actually have a lot to offer, and plenty to be happy about.

Comparisons usually make us unhappy, even if we have enough and should be happy with what we have.

More negative effects of comparison

  • Most often, when we look at others' strengths and achievements, we lose, because there's always someone who is doing "better" than we are.
  • When we compare ourselves with someone who has less than we do (fewer possessions, less personal attractiveness, less career success, etc.), we get a short-term ego boost that is easily knocked down as soon as we look at someone "above" us on the the comparison ladder.
  • We end up resenting others for doing well, or disdaining those who don't look successful by our standards, even though we don't know those people.  We're judging and ranking people without real evidence.
  • We may openly criticize people (maybe not to their faces, but to our companions) or brag about our own accomplishments.  Neither behavior is attractive.

Let's consider how can we break this cycle of comparing ourselves with others.

8 steps to stop comparing

1.  Become aware.

When any behavior is a habit, we do it without thinking.  So to overcome the habit of comparison, we have to be on the lookout for this behavior.  We have to acknowledge that we have this tendency, and pay attention when it occurs.

2.  Stop yourself.

Once you realize you're making a comparison, choose to stop it.  You don't need to beat yourself up; simply take a pause and change your focus.

3.  Remember your limited perspective.

On TV or social media, we only see the tip of the iceberg.  We see the best versions of people's lives, not the details.  As Steven Furtick reminds us, "The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel."

4.  Count your blessings.

I know I say this a lot, but gratitude really is a life-changer!  Count what you have, not what you don't.  Think about how many benefits and opportunities you have, and give thanks.

5.  Turn comparison to inspiration.

If looking up to someone, admiring who they are and what they've accomplished, inspires you to set goals and work to achieve them, then that's beneficial.  Striving to emulate a mentor or an idol can help us do our best.

6.  Pay attention to your strengths.

All of us have gifts and talents.  Discover and develop yours, and practice using them to make your own and others' lives better.  You don't need to brag, but you can feel pride and satisfaction about your God-given abilities.

7.  Accept imperfection.

Imperfection is another trait we all share.  Don't compare yourself to some ideal of excellence, but to yourself yesterday, or last week, or last year.  You may never reach perfection, but you can achieve self-improvement.  Don't make life a competition, but see it as a journey, and appreciate how far you've come.

8.  Be happy with enough.

If you always want what others have, you'll never have enough.  You'll always feel a lack, and you'll never be happy.  No matter how many clothes you buy, how big your house is, or how fancy your car, you'll never be satisfied.  

Instead, realize that you have enough.  You have shelter, food, clothing, education, people who love you – you have enough.  Anything more than that – and let's admit that all of us probably have more than that – is abundance.

Stop letting comparison steal your joy.  You'll be so much happier when you stop comparing your life to everyone else's.


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