Is comparison truly the thief of joy?
The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. All of us are guilty of this behavior from time to time.
Comparison is a thief of joy because it fosters competition more than affiliation. It is hard to develop close relationships or feel a sense of community with people when you view everyone as “the competition.” Sad to say when we engage in the game of social comparison, we are stuck dealing with comparison’s partner in crime: envy. And its ugly stepsister– jealousy. Neither of which lays the foundation for healthy relationships with one’s self or others.
When we compare, we compete. (And I am not talking about HEALTHY competition). Instead of celebrating other people’s strengths and gifts, we seek to tear them down because we begin to view them as a threat. Comparison leads to competition which requires someone be the winner and someone else the loser.
In turn, we view others as competitors instead of companions. Instead of fostering a sense of community, we foster a zero sum game. This is not a game that is going to end well for our relationships.
Ask yourself–when is the LAST time you compared yourself to another? A family member? A friend? A coworker? Or think of the last time you checked your Instagram or Facebook feed. Which updates made you feel jealous or made you feel as if your life paled in comparison? Which posts make you feel smug or better than that person who posted it? Feeling superior OR inferior to another are two sides of the same coin.
In comparing yourself to others to evaluate your own sense of self-worth, you will ALWAYS be losing. This leads to a “better than versus worse than” mentality and feelings of superiority or inferiority— neither of which helps us to build healthy relationships with others or feel happy with our self.
Yet human nature being what it is includes having a fundamental need to evaluate ourselves, and the only way many of us seem to know to do that is in reference to something else.
We compare our accomplishments with everyone else’s. We compare our looks, our body, our Instagram likes, our college acceptances, our careers. We compare our weight with everyone else’s. The size of our house. The number of stamps on our passports.
You name it- we compare it. Comparison drives the underlying feeling that we are never ENOUGH.
Soon we are stuck in the mental loop that there is always someone else doing it ALL better than we are.
Another issue with comparison is we usually zero in one aspect of a person’s life and envy it. It is usually an area where we judge ourselves the most harshly that we compare to others. Yet rarely when we compare ourselves to others are we looking at the whole picture — the good, the bad, and the unfortunate.
We look at the one aspect of a person’s life we envy without taking into account all the other components of the person. Everyone has a few less than ideal aspects to their life. No one’s life is completely free of sadness, pain, loss, shortcomings, insecurities, or disappointments.
In life, we all are forced to play the hand we are dealt.
The point is not to be better than anyone else. All ANY of us can do is play the cards we were dealt the best way we know how. To try to become a better version of yourself.
In this game of life you will never reach a point where you are better than others in EVERY way and why would you WANT to be.
By indulging in comparison, we demean ourselves and those we are comparing ourselves to.
When I assume someone is better than me because they earn a higher salary than me, I am diminishing my value to the number of zeroes on my paycheck. If I assume I have more discipline than someone who weighs more than me, I am diminishing someone’s worth to a number on a scale instead of looking at them as a human being.
Comparison has a way of creating problems when there is none. It plants seed of jealousy and envy within us that spoils our ability to connect openly and authentically with others.
Jealousy has a way of focusing on one thing at the expense of others. Jealousy gives an incomplete view of another person. For instance, envy ignores the hours of work that generated the high-level salary — the sacrifice of time that could have been spent with friends or family. It tends to overlook the years of schooling, studying, discipline, student loan debt, and sacrifices that preceded the success. It discounts the cost of the benefit.
It’s pretty easy to envy one aspect of another person’s life — his/her looks, talent, wealth, significant other, personality, or intelligence. It’s much harder to look closely at a person’s life as a whole and then envy another person’s life — a complete compilation of experiences.
Whenever I experience pangs of envy and I have to weigh everything at once, I tend to be more satisfied with my lot. Because if I want anything someone else has (his/her salary, ACTUAL career, education, self-confidence, weight, etc) I have to take everything else that comes with it — be it the high levels of stress, ill spouse, imperfect teeth, chronic illness, difficult child, or an alcoholic parent. Everyone has aspects of their life that are UNenviable.
Sure some people’s lives have more blessings and some have more suffering and loss. But every life has its ups and downs. Everyone gets some — some good and some bad.
Mind you, everyone’s “some” will be different.
So if you’re walking down the street and a super fit 20-year-old runs by, you might instantly assess that, by comparison, you’re out of shape. Then you may note that you’re at least two decades older than the jogger and juggling the care of three children under the age of 5 with a full-time job. You recall that you don’t have the same metabolism or time for exercise. Or maybe you realize you don’t even LIKE to run.
Maybe you are just starting out in your career and feel jealous of someone who is 10 or 15 years further along in their career. You feel pangs of insecurity at their lucrative career. Yet you know this person is older and further along in establishing their life. Or maybe when you think about it, you don’t want an EXTREMELY stressful career with LONG hours that just happens to be lucrative, in turn. In playing the comparison game, we usually do not look at the big picture. It’s apples to oranges comparison.
Our comparison-targets also tend to be those within our social circle. We don’t usually fixate on how our lot in life corresponds to that of Mark Zuckerberg, or to that of the homeless man sprawled on the sidewalk, but rather to that of our friends, colleagues, family members, and neighbors.
In other words, the more similar or close we are to another person in some way we think is important, the more we tend to compare ourselves to that person.
The truth is comparison is a waste of our time. First of all, success is a relative term. “Winning” and “success” has different meanings for different people. Some might be excelling at one thing but is struggling in other areas of their lives. Second, we are all on our own timelines and started at VERY different places in life–different advantages and disadvantages. Third, social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives. Not many people are sharing/posting about their failures and daily challenges.
Comparison is a short-sighted approach to life. It brings on feelings of envy and jealousy–two wasted emotions. If we realize that there is always going to be competition, there is always going to be someone we believe is better than us, then we can’t lose. If we start to be happy and satisfied with our own unique gifts, talents, and strengths, we lose the need to compare ourselves to others. Only when you apologetically own who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly does comparison lose its grip on you.
If you find you are struggle with social comparison, counseling can be a good place to work through these feelings. Instead of trying to be better than others, focus your energy on being the very best version of yourself.
To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Anew Counseling Services LLC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649