Comparison is the thief of joy

“Comparison is the thief of joy” is my all-time favorite quote. A Google search credits several people for saying this and it’s difficult to find the author. Regardless, I have found these words to be true personally, in my work with clients, and in everyday interactions with others.

When I heard this quote years ago, I began to adopt it into my inner monologue. Doing so began to change negative self-talk that would inevitably leave me feeling less confident in a given situation. I read an article in Psychology Today last year where the author discussed many of the aspects of comparison and how it impacts us emotionally. They discussed how comparison is an aspect of human nature that promotes survival; however, it can be taken too far and begin to tear us down.

A little comparison can be healthy. We all have someone who we look up to; for example, I admire people who own and operate small businesses because that’s a goal that I have for myself in the near future. I also admire celebrities who have overcome adversity and have done great things; for example, Oprah and Taraji P. Henson (I read a lot of memoirs, so my actual list is vast).

Problems begin to occur when we turn our admiration into comparison. Admiration inspires us to improve upon traits or skills that we value in others. Comparison; on the other hand, looks at what we have (or don’t have) and contrasts it with others. In my experience working in mental health, I’ve noticed that people don’t spend as much time comparing themselves with celebrities as they do comparing themselves to peers. It’s easier to admire celebrities because they’re harder to access whereas we encounter our peers daily.

Examples: Comparing yourself to the perfectly toned woman/man at the gym, sighing as you look at your cracked iPhone 6 while your coworker boasts about their new iPhone X, or googling your current job title and its “average salary.” Get the picture?

Aspects of social media, consumerism, advertisements, etc. all thrive on comparison. When it’s taken too far, we can become depressed, anxious, have low self-esteem, feel hopeless, and feel less motivated.

Every human is born with a desire to belong. That’s why there’s more than one person on the planet. It’s ok to want to fit in and to better oneself; however, it is unhealthy to spend too much time examining our lives through the scope of someone else’s.

The opposite of comparison is gratitude. Gratitude is the process of looking at what you have and being thankful for it and how it enhances your life. Gratitude produces the opposite emotions of comparison such as peace, joy, and satisfaction. Choosing gratitude over comparison is definitely easier said than done; however, it is worth trying. Over time, you’ll find yourself being more thankful and less envious.

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