“Comparison is the thief of joy”- a saying I’m sure lots of us are familiar with. But have you ever stopped to actively consider how you compare yourself to others and how that affects you and how you feel? I think comparison can be something we do (even if subconsciously) that hugely affects our feelings of contentment, happiness and self-worth. Learning to disable the overwhelming need to compare myself to others has been something that has helped me hugely over the past few months and something that now with hindsight I can see I spent far too much time doing prior to what I guess I’ll call “taking control of my life.”
In the world we live in, I think we are becoming hardwired to comparing aspects of our lives with the lives of others. Maybe this has always been a part of human nature, a way of figuring out social norms and adjusting ourselves to “fit in”, but it hasn’t always been so easy and accessible to compare yourselves to such a multitude of people. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, (to name a few), are all direct windows into the lives of others. The problem with this is that firstly, these are not accurate representations of people’s lives. These are highlight reels. These are edited photos. These are one capture of one second in that persons 24 hour day, or 7 day week. When you start to think about the fact that we compare our entire lives and all the crappy stuff we know about ourselves, all the hurt, pain, stress and struggle we might be feeling, with someone else’s happiest, glorious moments, you quickly realise it really is a ridiculous thing that we are doing, using those platforms to compare our lives. I can guarantee you, not a single person’s life is exactly as it is represented on their social media. It’s not possible. You don’t see their thoughts when they look in the mirror, when they check their bank account or when they go home alone each night. You might see a glimpse of their hardship, or it might seem like their life truly has no troubles, I promise you it’s not true.
The second problem with social media is that it is always available to us. When we are already feeling down about things, when we find ourselves lonely, bored, and susceptible to thinking our life is just crap, we can tap into what others are doing with just a few swipes of a screen. Anytime. Anywhere. How much time do you spend at night or in your spare time, scrolling through these apps and therefore scrolling through other people’s highlights? If it’s more time than you spend thinking about yourself and your own life, it’s out of balance. What would it look like if you put down your phone and started doing some reflecting on your own life? Spending 30 minutes in the evening writing down what you are grateful for or something that you are looking forward to, making goals for yourself, reading a book or learning a new skill. I fear our lives are being wasted spectating and comparing ourselves to others, rather than being who we are and embracing our own moments and opportunities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti social media. I think there can be lots of benefits to it; I really like seeing what people are up to, things being advocated for by using social media as a tool, spreading positive ideas and many other great things. But it becomes dangerous when we are unaware of the way we are interacting with it and the impression it is leaving us with. We need to take responsibility for the way we use social media and how it makes us feel. If seeing others doing fun and exciting things makes you feel a bit crap about yourself, then it’s up to you to figure out how you face that. Unfollow those people, or delete that app entirely, learn to remind yourself regularly that you are only seeing a glimpse of that person’s life. You may need to deal to some of the issues of discontent in your own life and learn how to appreciate the good in your own rather than just seeing the good in other people’s lives. Whatever it is, recognise how you feel and don’t let yourself stay in that place of torture by comparison. Being smart on social media is quickly becoming one of the most important ways we can look after ourselves in today’s world. Follow things that inform you, inspire you, build you up and make you feel good about yourself, and ditch the things that do the opposite.
Learn to see the life behind the pictures. Take me for an example, my instagram is full of photos of me at the beach, trips around New Zealand, out in nature, with friends, doing fun things. These photos are all real. I lived each one of those moments. I’ve got lots of fun memories and those photos for me help me to reflect and remember the fun things I’ve done. It’s not fake, but it truly is a highlight reel. I know that. My friends know that. Because I’m honest with them. You may look at my life or someone else’s and think you want it. Think you want to be that person or live in their shoes. But do you? You may want my fun experiences or my awesome friendships, but do you want my hurt and pain? Do you want the things I struggle with and the sacrifices I have made? Do you want my insecurities? There aren’t any photos of me being dragged from my bed to go to work at 3am. Or crying in my car because I hear an old song that brings memories back. There aren’t photos of the days where my face was permanently tear-stained, or captured moments of my phone calls with friends where they have had to talk me through my pain. There is no camera waiting every time I lie awake at night, or sit bolt upright from a nightmare. There are some photos where I was happy in that exact moment, but at another point in the same day, the roller coaster of grief sweeps through and I’m debilitated by loss and pain again. I’d be lying if I said some of those trips and fun adventures weren’t an attempt to run away, cheer myself up or make a new life on this clean slate. I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t acutely aware of how much my life has changed, and what the “old me” would have been doing. The important thing to me is that I have friends who I trust that I can talk to about the hard things, that I can be real with and go deeper than my happy social media posts with. Social media isn’t there to give a summary of my entire life, it is just a highlight reel, and when I recognise that for myself, it is suddenly very easy to realise: it’s the same for everyone else.
In saying that, this isn’t just a social media fueled issue. We compare ourselves constantly to the people around us in the “real world” too. Those we know and those we don’t. We compare jobs, relationships, friendships, experiences, holidays, finances, academic achievements, family situations, health and fitness, all parts of our bodies, cars, houses, fashion sense, religion, status, humour, politics, posessions. You name it, we find a way to compare ourselves. Is that ok? Is that healthy? Based on my own experience I would say no.
Looking back, I can now see that at my unhappiest, I was just living a life where I constantly compared every aspect of my life to the lives of those around me, and tried to fit their expectations of me. This is where you lose yourself. I wasn’t happy with my body, my personality, my job, what I was doing with my spare time, and my perceived friendships. I would look at others and see that they had it better than I did. They were fitter, had better friendships, better jobs, and did more fun things than I did. They were funnier, more likeable and easier to get along with. Or so I told myself. Back then I would have probably said the only thing I was happy with was my relationship. And so I made it the centre of my world and the only thing I needed. This created an astronomical amount of pressure on both people in the relationship to keep it being the thing that made me happy, essentially causing it to crumble. And also meant once it was gone, I realised I was unhappy about every aspect of my life. That’s a problem when you find yourself in a place where you don’t like who you are and the life you live. Added to this, because I had made someone else my happiness and my validation for such a long period of time, the worst period of comparison came when the person I loved moved on with someone new. Was I not as pretty as her? As kind as her? As interesting as her? Was she better than I was? Did she deserve love and happiness more than I did? I wallowed in these thoughts for a while. And these are very raw thoughts, but thoughts I’m sure anyone going through a similar situation has had. Whether it’s a break up, a loss of friendship or a rejection from a job, we start to compare ourselves. That was a scary place to find myself in. I already felt as though I was going through the hardest time of my life, and then having someone to directly compare to, someone I felt was chosen over me for what I wanted, just added a new dimension of pain. I knew I had to deal to those thoughts quickly. I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to compare myself to her, or to anyone else for that matter. It took me a while, but I got to a point where I felt content. I am pretty, and kind, and interesting. I am a good person. And she is pretty, and kind, and interesting. And I believe she is a good person. We have similarities, and we have differences. But we are both people worthy of being loved. Being in a relationship doesn’t define me, and I am no less worthy because one person chose to have a relationship with someone else. One person’s opinion doesn’t have the power to tell me who I am or define my worth.
The question when you find yourself unhappy is, are you actually unhappy with your circumstances or are you unhappy because you are comparing yourself to someone else’s circumstances? For example, are you actually unhappy in your job, or do you feel unhappy because all your friends do is rave about their work perks and how much they love their job? Are you actually unhappy in your relationship, or do you feel unhappy because you compare it to some loved up rom-com or a famous couple you follow on Instagram? Do you really hate your body, or have you become so prone to comparing yourself to every model that flashes across billboards and magazines that you have decided that your body sucks because you don’t look exactly like them? When you take away the element of comparison, it is far easier to recognise and appreciate the things you enjoy about your job, even though it’s not the same as your friends. It is easier to see how your partner is really great, and open your eyes to the things they do to show they love you, even though it’s not bringing you 100 red roses like the famous guy on Instagram did. And without comparison, everyone’s bodies are amazing and beautiful. The fact that we can walk, run, laugh, swim, create humans, play sport, travel the world and the thousands of other things our bodies are capable of, means every body is worth being celebrated, no comparison required. Again, someone else’s beauty, happiness, success etc etc etc does not (ever) take away from your own.
As soon as I stopped comparing myself to others, trying to be someone for someone else, for social media, or for more friends or for any of those methods of validation, I found a freedom to be my true self, and immense satisfaction and joy in who I am. I went from being someone who was incredibly unhappy and frankly dissatisfied with life, to someone who loves life and understands herself. And my favourite part about my life now? It’s not a relationship, or a job, it’s not a holiday or my bank account. My favourite part of my life is me. I love being me. I love that I love the ocean. I love that I am brave (enough to actually run into the ocean). I love that I would do anything to see someone else smile. I love that I am thoughtful. I love that I remember little details and conversations I’ve had with people. I love that I can write. I love that I can articulate how I feel. I love that I am strong. I love that I have allowed myself to change and grow and that has taken guts. I love my blue eyes and my curly brown hair. I love that I can recall song lyrics to almost every song I’ve ever heard. I love that I can be open and honest. I love that I know how to be silly and how to be serious. I love that I am witty. I love to hear myself laugh out loud. I love that I’m a great organiser but that I’ll always jump on board a spontaneous adventure too. Suddenly I’m exactly who I want to be, and the irony is I’ve always been most of these things. I was already this person at the time where I didn’t love who I was, I just couldn’t see it. The difference between then and now is, I’m not comparing myself to anyone else. Instead of focusing on others, I’m focussing on me. I’m living to my own standard. It doesn’t mean I can’t change or want to be better at something. In fact, I have changed and I am better. At the start of this year I was not an easy person to be around, I was grumpy and sometimes mean, I pushed people away and I chased various things in an attempt to make myself “feel happy”. No matter what I did I couldn’t find it. Because I was comparing myself to others and I wasn’t being myself. You can’t be your authentic self when you are trying to be like someone else. And if you aren’t being yourself you will eventually become unhappy, trapped inside a person that you are not. I’m a better person; a joyful, kind and loving person, to myself and others, when I’m not comparing myself to anyone else.
Aside from making you feel crap about yourself, comparing can also very quickly turn into envy and jealousy. And we all know they are not pretty feelings, especially with people we are close to and genuinely care about. It’s one thing to get jealous about people you don’t know (and remember you don’t know their whole story) but it can really affect your personal relationships if you let comparison and jealousy creep into your life. What happens when your friend gets a boyfriend and you compare that to your lack of one? What happens when they buy a house and you compare that to the fact that you ate cornflakes for dinner because it’s pay day tomorrow and you have no money left for the week? What happens when they take a trip of a lifetime overseas and you are left at home working and living your “boring, mundane life”? Maybe it’s true that when you compare all these things, the grass is greener on the other side and that’s where you would rather be. But do you know who I want to be? The friend who celebrates my friends and their achievements and their happiness. I want to be stoked for my friends when they find love, happiness, success and fun. And the best way I know how to do that is to choose not to compare. To subjectively look at their life as their life and my life as my life. Someone else’s achievement and success, does not take away from your own. Say that to yourself if you feel that familiar pang of jealousy creep in. Their success does not take away from your own. You will be a better friend for it, and you will be happier within yourself, I promise.
While comparison is the thief of joy, in my experience, joy can be the thief of comparison. It’s almost like paper, scissors, rock. Comparison takes away joy but joy takes away discontent and when you are content, comparison doesn’t stand a chance in entering your realm of thought. When you allow yourself to appreciate yourself and your life, you don’t feel the need to put yourself up against others and see where you fit on their scale of success or achievement. Stay focussed on yourself, train your mind to find joy, appreciation and gratitude in your own life, allow yourself to celebrate others without it taking away from your own happiness. Trap yourself when you hear thoughts of comparison enter your mind, hold those thoughts captive and tell yourself the truth. The truth that you are just as worthy of love, friendship, happiness and success as any person you could ever compare yourself to. The truth that everyone has some form of struggle and pain at one time or another. Stop comparing and start loving yourself and others for exactly who you are and who they are, and I hope you will feel the difference.