It’s human nature to compare. But if we let it, continual comparison of our actions and achievements to those of others can adversely affect our happiness. In fact, Theodore Roosevelt hit the nail on the head with this quote:
‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’
When we compare our lives to the lives of others, we will never find fulfillment because we’re not giving ourselves a realistic goal. If we embrace the comparison habit then we won’t have a chance. There will always be someone who is prettier, funnier, more sociable, richer, more successful, more intelligent… It’s a question of perception and we habitually find ourselves lacking when pitching against others.
So here’s an idea. Instead of using others as a yardstick, be your own yardstick. When scientists conduct control experiments they change one variable at a time so the results make sense. Certain factors need to remain unchanged for the results to be interpreted properly.
This is the thing – when we compare ourselves to others, there is no control. Absolutely nothing about the person I compare myself to is the same or even similar to myself. We’re all born as individuals, packages ready to be unwrapped at different times – a layer here, a layer there. Everyone has different upbringings, beliefs, external influences, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. All these beautiful differences mean that comparison is fruitless.
It really doesn’t make any sense to compare yourself to someone else. It’s like a slug comparing itself to a cheetah and feeling depressed because it can’t move as fast.
You are the control. Where are you now compared to this time last year? Five years ago? Ten years ago? I bet if you make a decade of comparisons with yourself you may realize just how far you’ve come and how much you have achieved. You’ll also be able to form a realistic idea of what you need to do to reach the place you want to be in another five years.
Ten years ago I was unhappy in my job and in a volatile relationship. I had no idea who I was because I was constantly trying to please others. Fast forward to today and I’m in a happy marriage, have three beautiful children and am a freelance writer – something I’d always dreamed of doing. Sure, I’m not as successful as most other writers I know, but my journey is entirely different to theirs. If I compare myself to them I can easily feel depressed and lacking. But if I compare my today to my yesterday I feel nothing but pride. Of course my life isn’t always a bed of roses, but then nobody can be happy all the time.
That’s the whole point.
More importantly I’ve accepted who I am and have learned to be myself. I realise that I can’t control what others think or say about me and nor do I care. I feel more secure in myself than I ever have. And that is my proudest achievement. I can only appreciate its significance when I compare myself now to myself ten years ago.
It’s taken me years to learn that comparing myself to others is entirely pointless and leads to nothing but unhappiness. When comparing to others, we don’t start on an equal footing. We ignore the fact that no two journeys are the same. We reach our potentials at different times and in different ways.
Just as no two fingerprints are the same, neither are two achievements, careers or lifestyles. Millions of different forces, with a completely unique make-up, have worked together to place us exactly where we are right now. We cannot compare that process with anyone else’s.
However, one thing you can be sure of is that the person you compare yourself to will, at some time, have glanced at her neighbour and felt a sense of failure or inadequacy. This is inevitable.
If you’re feeling trapped by the comparison habit, repeat Theodore Roosevelt’s quote to yourself and resolve to be your own yardstick. Only when you compare yourself to yourself, will you be able to see clearly how far you’ve come and what you can do to improve and evolve. Any other form of comparison is illogical and fruitless.