It’s struck me recently that we spend a lot of time and mental energy on comparing ourselves or our lives to others that we see around us. Sometimes we know the people we are comparing ourselves with. They might be friends or neighbors or coworkers or family that have something that is different from our life. Sometimes we don’t know the people we are comparing with. They might be celebrities or other people that we have some contact with.
Whether we know them or not, we can compare almost anything. Houses, cars, jobs, salaries, clothes, families, and even our bodies. Although it’s an automatic response for many of us, making these comparisons can hurt our wellbeing.
Apples and Oranges
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. John Demartini speak.
He told the story of a man who said that he wanted to be the dentist who lives down the street from him. The dentist had a beautiful large house that the man wanted. The dentist also had a beautiful wife and children. He was a dentist so he worked the hours that he wanted and was wealthy. As the man compared the dentist’s life with his own, he thought the dentist’s life was perfect and he wanted it.
Demartini asked, “Do you want the dentist’s marriage problems?”
The point Demartini is making is that we can’t know what another person’s life is like. We see the outside trappings of people’s lives and because of how they look, we decide that we want their life. But we aren’t making a fair comparison. Usually we are comparing the best of their lives with what we are dissatisfied with in our own lives.
Comparison is the Killer of Joy
Demartini said, “Comparison is the killer of joy.”
I said that comparison can hurt our wellbeing. When we are comparing ourselves and our lives with the lives of others, we lose our joy. Comparison makes us judge and evaluate our lives and the lives of those around us. Often the result of the evaluation is the feeling that our life is missing something. If we constantly feel that our life is missing something, we don’t get to feel the joy that could be in our lives.
One reason that we are comparing ourselves so often today is social media gives us a forum to compare. When we spend time on social media, we scroll past thousands of pictures of people’s lives. Suddenly everyone else’s life looks like a perfect party all the time.
Maybe what we notice is that everyone else goes on exotic vacations. Or we notice that everyone else’s house is always clean and beautiful. Or we notice that their kids are always smiling and playing together. If we compare these pictures with our own lives, we might feel that our life is really lacking.
We often forget while we are scrolling that these pictures show only a second of people’s lives and that they have been set up to look beautiful and perfect. You might be seeing a beautiful clean kitchen counter with a delicious bowl of homemade food, but just outside of the shot there might be a huge mess of dirty pots and pans and spills across the counter and stove.
Comparing ourselves to others isn’t serving us. It kills our joy and hurts our wellbeing. We need to find a way to stop comparing ourselves.
When we want to stop comparing, we can start by noticing when we are making those comparisons. What triggers a moment of comparison for you? Once we recognize the causes, we can choose another response.
If a moment of comparison arises, we can choose to respond with gratitude. We can notice what we are comparing and choose instead to feel gratitude for what we have. For example, if we are comparing our house with the new house being built down the street, we can stop and feel grateful for the house that we have. We have a house that provides us shelter, keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter, provides a place to sleep and if we pay attention, provides so many of the other things that we need.
When we focus on gratitude, it gives us the time to remember the good things that we have in our lives. With the example of the house, we might have been focusing for a while on the things that are wrong with our house or the things that we would like to change (either in this house in the future or in the next house we move to). But when we turn our mind to gratitude, we notice again the things that we love about our house.
What comparison can you shift to gratitude? Let me know in the comments.