Have you ever compared yourself with anyone? Who am I kidding? You must have. Everyone does. We, humans, are wired such that we always keep comparing ourselves with others. My neighbor has a bigger car. My friend has a better job. He is more fit than I. She is more pretty than I.
We are always indulging in these kinds of thoughts, sometimes even unconsciously. In fact, research shows that more than 10% of our daily thoughts involve a comparison of some sort. While ‘Run your own race” seems reasonable to hear, the truth is we hardly follow this advice.
Our parents and teachers start comparing our results with our classmates. From our academic performance to our drama skills, everything is compared. When we grow up watching our parents comparing us with others, how can we not do the same thing, and that’s why we always compare ourselves with others.
We have been trained to compare ourselves to other people since childhood. People cannot help but compare themselves with other peoples.
In Psychology, there is a theory named Social Comparison theory, which states that “Individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others.”
In other words, it means that when we look around and find that people around us are behind us, we feel pretty good about ourselves that increases our happiness, but if we find that people around us are ahead of us. We are the only one who lacks behind then we feel miserable and worthless, which makes us unhappy.
When used for good, comparison can be valuable too for furthering our self-improvement. It could prove to be an effective tool for self-motivation and positive self-image, but more often than not, it is also the thief of joy as it slowly consumes our happiness.
In this regard, a quote by 26th President of America, Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” fits perfectly. This quote, in one line, sums up that comparison is the chief cause of our unhappiness.
While the intention of our parents and teachers may be to motivate us so that we can do better, but it does not always have that effect on everyone. There is a fragile line between comparison, pushing us to do better, and pushing us into depression or giving us anxiety attacks. Yes, it’s true that comparison can cause mental illness. Most of the mental issues that exist in society are because of comparison.
People who regularly compare themselves to the people around them are more likely to develop mental illness, feelings of isolation, negative self-image, self-loathing, guilt, or remorse. Some people, in order to hide these negative feelings and to look better, can even fall prey to destructive behaviors like compulsive lying or other similar tactics, which obviously works as a thief of joy.
Comparison in the Age of Social Media
With the increasing influence of social media, comparison can take a heavy toll on people’s mental health and happiness. We open Instagram, Facebook, and other social media apps and see people having a perfect body, better car, better house, perfect relationships, and happier than us. Someone is getting married. Someone else got a new job. Your other friend bought a car. Someone else is traveling places.
What thoughts can one have after watching the almost perfect lives of others over social media? It triggers comparison within moments, sometimes unconsciously, and while we keep scrolling and liking people’s posts, writing comments about how happy we are for them, inside, we feel miserable and worthless.
This comparison resurfaces our vulnerabilities and steals our happiness, which confirms that comparison is a thief of joy. There is hardly any other thing than social media that triggers comparison this fast.
Social media is a place where people flaunt their luxuries, affluent lifestyle, achievements, and other good things. People hardly share problems with their lives over social media. Social media does not represent the complete life of a person, and still, we compare our whole life, which has so many problems with other’s ‘apparent’ pain-free life that we see on social media.
It makes us feel tha we are missing out on a lot of things that other people are doing. This is called FOMO (the fear of missing out). For example, when we see people putting pictures of partying, traveling, and shopping over social media, we feel that we are not doing all those things, and because of that, we are missing out on the pleasure that other people are having.
It makes us blind to moments of happiness that we have in our real lives, which again shows why the comparison is a thief of joy. Comparison gives us the sense that others have better social lives than we do.
In fact, researchers have found that people who compare themselves with highly visible, highly social people – the social butterflies of their circle, believe that they spend more time alone, have fewer friends, go to more occasional parties, and have small social circle than others, including their close friends.
When we scroll through social media, watching and constantly comparing ourselves with other people’s stories, we often forget that most people only share the highlight reels of their lives over social media.
Outing with friends, delicious food, new car, new house, new job, better relationships, adorable pets, and other good things in their lives. Often, people refrain from sharing their bad days, their fights, sore relationships, messed up mental health, their debt, and overdue bills, and other such low points of their lives that everyone has.
Here, I am not suggesting that social media platforms are to blame or that we should not use them or that we should post our failures over them. My point is that era of social media has just elevated the level of comparison in our lives.
The real problem lies in our tendency to constantly comparison, even if the comparison is unreasonable, which most of the time is. The real problem is comparison working as a thief of joy instead of pushing us in the right direction. These unreasonable comparison causes stress and anxiety and steal our joy.
Generally, if we compare ourselves with people ‘less-successful’ than us, we feel good, but the problem is we rarely do that. Most of the time, we compare ourselves with people ‘more-successful’ than us.
This behavior can be seen in our fascination with celebrity life, and carefully manicured social media feeds uploaded by social influencers. We almost always compare ourselves to people that seem to be more successful than ourselves.
While doing this, we forget that no matter what we do, how much we earn, how fit we are, there is always going to be someone better than us. If we keep comparing us to people better than us, then this is going to be a never-ending vicious loop of feeling worthless and miserable.
What Can We Do?
While we cannot end thoughts of comparison completely, we can stop that from becoming a thief of joy for us. We can minimize the adverse effects of comparison by following some of the advice mentioned following.
Hike your own Hike
Hikersaround the world have this one motto that says, ‘Hike your own Hike.’ This means when we are hiking, we must focus on our trail and see how far we have come instead of focusing on others.
This same principle can work in real life if we realize that we have to focus on ourselves. We are responsible for our own growth. We don’t come on earth to achieve what others are achieving. So, comparing ourselves with others is just a waste of our own energy and a thief of joy.
We all are unique and need not follow others. We all have our own goals, and our own path carved out. So, a comparison is not right between two people because both have different lives and different goals. By comparing ourselves with others, we deny our uniqueness.
One of the best ways of overcoming comparison is being thankful for what we have. When we compare ourselves with others, mostly we find that we lack something that other people have. These negative thoughts make us blind to good things, the good habits that we have. Things that we should be proud of and should be grateful for having them. Gratefulness is a habit that makes us see what incredible gifts we have in our lives and stops comparison from becoming a thief of joy for us.
The best way to cultivate the habit of gratefulness is to start a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a place where we write down a few things every day for which we are thankful, and that makes us happy.
The purpose of a gratitude journal is to focus on being thankful for the things that we have. This takes our mind off from constant comparison and makes us see our own gifts and abilities that we are proud of.
Embrace an Abundance Mindset
Embracing an abundance mindset is another thing that can help us to overcome hostile and unreasonable comparisons. It cam stops comparison from becoming a thief of joy. The abundance mindset is the opposite of the scarcity mindset, a self-limiting belief that tells us that there is not enough to go around.
For example, if one of our friends gets that job that we wanted for a long time, we think that we missed out on that job, and we are never going to get that. Here we focus on things that we lose or that we don’t have. This is a scarcity mindset where comparison works as a thief of joy. The scarcity mindset stops us from seeing other opportunities that lie before us. The scarcity mindset causes toxicity and resentment.
In reality, however, there is always enough to go around. There are lots of other opportunities that lie before us and want just a knock on their door. The abundance mindset is looking out for such opportunities. The abundance mindset makes us think, “Well, good for my friend that he got the job. I’ll get the other one, which may be better than this.”
Quote by Alexander Graham Bell, “When one door closes, another opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us” sums this perfectly. In an abundance mindset, comparison can not work as a thief of joy. To overcome unfavorable comparisons, we need to change our scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset.
Recognize the difference between a realistic and unrealistic target
Sometimes when we compare ourselves with others, we tend to set an unrealistic target for us. This happens a lot when we compare our lifestyle with celebrities or with social media influencers. This unrealistic comparison becomes a thief of joy. We must always remember whom we can compare ourselves to.
Sometimes, even when we compare our own situation with our friends, we tend to forget things like privileges that our friends have, but we don’t, and that can create a vast difference in our realities. For example, someone with wealthy parents can go shopping at places where people who have less-earning parents can not go, and a comparison between the two is going to be a negative one for the latter, which is going to work as a thief of joy.
Consider what and why?
When we compare ourselves with anyone, we must also think about why we are comparing and what we want to achieve from this comparison; otherwise, no matter what we do and whom we compare ourselves to, the comparison is going to work as a thief of joy. Most of the time, we make comparisons without even bothering to ask ourselves these questions.
For example, if we are comparing ourselves to a friend who is a better player, it is only useful when we focus on things that he does to become a better player. Does he practice more? Does he spend more time exercising? What can we do to become like him? The answer to these questions will come only if we consider what we are trying to achieve by the comparison.
If comparison makes you feeling low, spend some time thinking about positives. Think about how much you have progressed over time. Think about people who are below you and feel good that at least you are better off than many.
Take time off
Whileit is impossible to completely wipe out the thought of comparison, we can control the effects that comparison has over us. This can be done by engaging ourselves in other activities like running or meditation, which clears our mind. Taking time off is one of the best ways to stop comparison from becoming a thief of joy. So, Whenever we compare ourselves with others, we should get outside, change our environment, and do something that takes our minds elsewhere.
Recognize the gaps
At some point in time, we have all felt it – a sense of jealousy, envy, or fear of missing out. If we think carefully about why we feel this way, we’ll realize that it is because there are gaps in our lives. We realize that comparison works as a thief of joy only because of the space in our lives.
Often, we don’t take the time to analyze our feelings. We feel jealous because someone else got what we wanted. Someone else achieved their dream while we are stuck in an unsatisfied job. This difference between our dreams and our reality makes us feel jealous or envious of anyone who gets to live their dreams.
This difference gives a comparison to the chance of working as a thief of joy. We can use these emotions for our benefit by recognizing gaps that cause them and then filling that gap by fulfilling our dreams.
Comparison among humankind is not new, and it certainly is not the fault of social media. Comparison is like a two-way street. It can motivate you, or it can depress you. Comparison is a thief of joy only when we let it happen.
It’s true that social media have elevated the level of comparison, but that does not mean that comparison was not there when there was no social media. Comparison is inherent in our society.
So, it would be completely wrong to blame social media for comparison. Instead, to lower the negative effects of comparison, to stop comparison from becoming a thief of joy for us, we must follow some tips mentioned above like gratefulness, abundance mindset, realizing our uniqueness, and living in reality rather than all consumed in dreams. We must find ways that stop comparison from becoming a thief of joy.
While we should not compare ourselves with anyone, similarly, we must not compare our children with others. We must realize the gravity of unfavorable comparisons.
We must realize that comparison will work for them also as a thief of joy. If we won’t compare our children with others, there is a high possibility that they will not grow up comparing themselves with others as we did, and for the comparison will not prove to be a thief of joy.