Comparison is the thief of joy
I remember the first time I ever compared myself to another person. It was an early afternoon in 1997 and my primary school teacher Miss Smith told the class we could get an early tea break if we answered her questions correctly. Goody two shoes 5 yr old Prasanthi hastily answered that the colour of water was white, shortly corrected by resident class smarty pants across the room that it was indeed ‘clear’. She got up happily from the floor and skipped out of the classroom (literally) into the warm afternoon sun to play. In that moment even as a child, I felt my first pangs of insecurity and the development of childlike resentment towards her. I projected my insecurity about my lack of knowledge into making an intellectual nemesis out of another.
This on the spectrum of comparison was quite trivial perhaps. But it was hereon in that the spiral started, , a neverending blackhole, almost exponentially increasing day by day, year by year, and about an infinite array of topics from a to z. It was only really until this year that I began to properly realise that my mind was wired to want to quantify and rank information about my position in the spectrum of lives worldwide through comparison.
Comparison was my mind’s method of proprioception, of gathering bearings on how well or poorly I was doing in the context of others around me. And whilst I am all for the type of social comparison where we are inspired by others and use this as fuel to improve our own selves, at times I find it can venture into more unruly territory, where it dominates thinking, and we justify the ruthless judgement and deconstruction of others, and even of ourselves.
The reality is, there will always be someone better at something than you. This was a hard concept for an ambitious person like myself to grasp. But then I thought about it this way. Bill Gates may be the richest person in the world but he sure as hell isn’t the most beautiful (sorry Bill). Beyonce may be the best singer but I’m not sure she qualifies as the most intellectual (she is still the Beyonce). I could go on. The point here isn’t to encourage ridicule or diminishment of others, but to highlight that expecting yourself to be perfect or the best at everything is a ridiculous and unattainable goal. Comparison as a means of trying to attain this sense of superiority is only a losing battle. Putting others down might seem like a great way to elevate ourselves but usually it only breeds negativity; we feel resentment, jealousy, inadequacy, feelings that are never a good thing and only serve to make you unhappy. When I was reading about this topic online, Theodore Roosevelt’s quote ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ popped up on numerous occasions, for good reason.
We suffer from a serious case of grass is greener-itis, where we focus so intently on the highlight reel of others that we lose sight of the reality, as well as of our own negative bias against ourselves.
More importantly though, I realised that all that precious time I spent comparing myself to others, I could be dedicating towards improving myself. I grew so tired of this phenomenon of feeling like a small fish in an ocean full of more magnificent creatures. I grew tired of the daily scrutinising of self and others, of following the voice like a fractious infant despite being a grown adult.
Slowly, I have been able to silence this pesky and loitering noise, shifting my energy to self improvement and being kinder to myself. When you catch yourself about to compare yourself in a self deprecating or outwardly judgemental manner, ask yourself instead to find something nice to say about the subject of your focus. I have found being kinder to others and elevating them led to a substantial increase in my own self love and feelings of self worth and overall happiness.
Remembering that another’s beauty and light does not diminish yours is important. When you realise life is short, being kinder to yourself and to others becomes an obvious choice to make. Rather than letting yourself get carried up in the instinctive avalanche pattern of negative comparative thinking, ask yourself why you are doing so, and attempt to divert the energy to putting out your own fire of insecurity and to nullify its power.
Shifting consciousness and responsibility back to self can be a difficult task to initiate but I promise it has been the secret to a greater sense of freedom for me. There is a whole new world of happiness and self love waiting for you too.