At some time or another, most of us have compared ourselves to others. And, in fact, it’s something we’re wired to do. If you think back to the days when humans lived in groups of no more than 50 people and had stone tools, how we compared was important. That is, were we likable? Did we contribute enough to the group? If the group felt an individual wasn’t pulling their own weight or was bad for the group, that individual might be exiled from the group. This was an almost certain death sentence at the time. So comparisons were important! They were literally a matter of life and death.
Today, we are surrounded by invitations to compare ourselves to others. Much of advertising is based on this. And with social media, everyone promotes what I call the Christmas letter view of their lives: they highlight and talk up the positives and fail to mention the disappointments, failures, or negative events. When browsing social media, it’s easy to begin to think that everyone else leads a charmed, idyllic life except you. This can have a serious negative effect on mental health. Theodore Roosevelt has been credited with saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” One person may be happy with their new-to-them car, just two years old but looking brand new, until they see that someone in their social circle announced that they’d just bought a brand new flashy car. Then, the nice-but-used car loses some of its shine to the new owner. And, in truth, the new owner of the year-old car may pull into the parking lot at work and may be noticed—and envied—by a co-worker driving a 15-year old car. It’s all relative.
When you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else and coming up short, you can feel down about yourself and your situation. When this happens, one thing you can do is acknowledge the positive aspects of your own situation. Using the car example, I might say, “Sarah has a brand new car, but mine is paid for.” Remembering that Sarah’s car comes with a loan and monthly payments when your car is paid off can make you appreciate your own situation. Remind yourself, when you find yourself thinking that everyone else has a much nicer life than you do as you scroll through social media, that they are showing you the highlights. They aren’t showing you the carpet the cat peed on or talking about the fact that they and their spouse are considering separating. You, too, could present a carefully curated view of your life to the world which would look quite different than the way you experience your life.
Another way to deal with the issue of falling short in comparisons is to use the perceived difference to inspire or challenge you to improve or grow. Don’t focus on what you see as your shortcomings as much as on what steps you can take to move in the direction you want to go. But take time to make sure that really is a direction you want to go. Just because a significant portion of your graduating class now has children doesn’t mean having kids is the right thing for you at this point in your life. (This might be a case where you highlight the positive aspects of your different situation: “It seems like everyone has started their families now and I haven’t. But I’m traveling overseas each year for vacation and they aren’t.”)
Finally, focus on gratitude for what you do have. If comparison is the thief of joy, gratitude is the welcome mat, inviting happiness, joy, and contentment to pay a visit.
In this time of COVID-19 stay-at-home, we may compare ourselves to others and how they are handling the situation. We may feel everyone else seems to be baking bread and enjoying family time while we’re wanting Calgon to take us away from the kids learning from home. Whether it’s this or some other issue, I invite you to call or text me at (816) 226-4678 to set up a free 30-minute consultation.