“No matter what you do, someone won’t be pleased. Your choices will be criticized. Someone will suggest what you should do. No matter what path you choose, there will be someone who seems to have more. Somebody will have more than yours. And someone else’s life may look more impressive on paper. If you’re being true to yourself, none of that will matter because you’ll have something more satisfying than approval and the illusion of “success”: a life that feels right for you, based on your own wants, needs, values, and priorities.” ~Lori Deschene
Have you ever walked past a grand-looking house, or driven through an upmarket neighborhood and thought, “I wish I lived here” or “The people living here are so lucky”?
If you have, then we’ve been part of the same club! This was something I did a lot of.
While walking my dog, I’d look at a house and assume that the people living in that house must have been very happy with life. These assumptions were made purely based upon the appearance of the house’s front yard.
When I think about it now as I write this post, I wonder, “How could I have been that naive?” Despite being aware of the expression “never judge a book by its cover,” that’s exactly what I used to do. What lies beneath the magnificent entrance to a house? We don’t know what secrets the homes in exclusive areas of London hold.
An unexpected and sad news story a few years back gave me a dose of reality that rekindled my comparisonitis.
A home I once loved became the scene of an egregious murder-suicide, which claimed the lives of an entire family. It was hard to believe what I saw as I watched TV coverage and read news.
My mind was thinking, in all its naivety, “Is that even possible? How could this have been possible for the owners of such a beautiful home? They had everything anyone could ever want, didn’t they?”
Can I Get to Know You?
Have you heard the expression “human beings are like onions”? There are so many layers covering our core. You can peel off layers and uncover another layer.
Knowing someone deeply is difficult. Have you ever wondered about strange or puzzling behaviours of people you thought were close to you?
It is a fact that we are all unique and can take many lifetimes to fully understand ourselves. It is no wonder we don’t ever get to know another person.
We still like to compare. It’s something we do every day, and without realizing how easy and often it is for us to fall into comparison mode.
Because we are born with this tendency to compare, it is natural for humans to be drawn in the beginning of our lives.
As young kids, we might have experienced the feeling of being compared to other children—by parents, teachers, relatives, friends, peers, etc. As adults we begin to look up to others. Some comparisons can be positive, while others might not be. Either way, it leads to feelings that are unhealthy—a sense of superiority or inferiority.
Arrogance and bitterness, however, can never be healthy.
Whether your comparison results in thoughts of “Oh, I’m so much better than this guy!” or “How does she do it? I’ll never be as good as her!”, there’s little doubt that “the thief of joy,” as coined perfectly by Roosevelt, has taken residence in your head and is busy ransacking your mind of all joy, happiness, and contentment.
Is it really so hard not to fall prey to constant comparison?
Social Comparison Theory
Leon Festinger, a psychologist, proposed that human beings engage in social comparisons as a means of evaluating themselves. It is a process similar to benchmarking. Comparing ourselves with others helps us to learn more about our abilities and attitudes.
Festinger’s theory contends that human beings can only define themselves in relation to other people. I wonder if that’s why the age-old existential question “Who am I?” seems so difficult to answer, as we seem to be incapable of defining ourselves independent of others.
Social comparison, as mentioned previously, can be used in two different ways.
1. Social comparisons in the upward direction
This happens when we try to compare ourselves with others who are superior. These types of comparisons can result in two different kinds of thoughts and emotions or results.
This is the first type where we may want to make improvements in order to be better than the person we’re comparing ourselves with, or go beyond them. This is one possible benefit of comparison if we’re prepared to learn, as it could lead to personal growth.
If comparison can be seen in this positive light, then “the thief of joy” might be entitled to a change of title and live inside us as “the giver of motivation.”
The second and more common outcome of upward social comparison is envy, jealousy, and bitterness—obviously an undesirable outcome that can only lead to disappointment and frustration.
2. Comparative social analysis downward
It happens when we try to compare ourselves with people that are more fortunate than us. This is like an “artificial boost to self-esteem” exercise. The “at least I’m not as bad as him/her” attitude might help us feel better about our talents, achievements, or life situation, even if only temporarily.
Early in life, social comparisons (e.g., one child wanting to play with the same toy as another) gain momentum in school. Children are exposed to new fashions and gadgets and become more accustomed to them in adulthood.
This tendency to compare completes a full circle when the phenomenon moves on to adults comparing their children on how well they’re doing in academics, sports, or any other activity.
Escape from the Comparison Trap
The comparison trap is a major obstacle to our mental and emotional health. I’m sure none of us wants to experience the feeling of unworthiness from upward social comparison, or superiority from downward social comparison. What can we do to avoid this?
Below are five ways you can say no to comparisonitis.
1. Define your definition of success.
We would have a much lower rate of comparing ourselves to others if we had a clear definition of what success is. For instance, if our success definition were about raising healthy, happy kids, we wouldn’t really be bothered about someone else’s thriving business, would we?
2. Learn about your personal strengths.
Becoming aware of our strengths will help in minimizing the tendency of comparing our weaknesses with other people’s strengths. Albert Einstein, the great physicist and astronomer failed to pass his French exam. Fortunately, he didn’t let that failure define him, as he was aware that his strengths lay elsewhere!
3. Take a look at the whole picture.
Whenever you find yourself slipping into comparison mode (which will inevitably happen… we are human after all!), just remind yourself that there’s always more to a person’s life than what you’re seeing or hearing.
Don’t let a peek through a small window into someone’s life lead to disillusionment or disappointment with your entire life. In other words, don’t compare your Complete movie with another person’s highlights reel!
4. Be a student always
Develop the “continuous learning” philosophy. You will find it easier to view yourself as someone who is still learning, and not as a competitor, when you think about your peers in the context of cooperation, rather than competition. If you think of yourself as an artist who is still painting his/her masterpiece, you might not be tempted to feel inferior when you view other people’s paintings because your job’s not done yet!
5. Keep your eyes on the little things.
If you feel the urge to compare yourself, start a simple project that can be completed in a short amount of time and succeed. It could be something that you might’ve been putting off for a while.
For example, let’s say you’ve started a new online business and you start to feel unsatisfied about the lack of progress. Maybe you’re looking at peers in your industry who are at a similar stage of the business cycle but seem to be gaining a lot more traction.
Instead of letting this get you down, how about you focus on something small—like writing a blog or doing a podcast? It could lift your spirits to do that task correctly.
Do you remember seeing pieces of driftwood floated in the water? Due to the movement of the waves they might come together and stay there for a while, then the force of water forces them apart and separates and they move on their own.
It is like this in our lives.
People come into our lives and go out of our lives at different stages of our life’s journey.
Every person begins their journeys in a different way. We end our journeys at different places. And often, our paths lead to different destinations. It is wrong to compare our lives with others. Let’s face it, not everyone is running the same race.
Try this exercise…
You can take a trip down memory lane and rewind your past fifteen to twenty-years. Consider someone you compared yourself to back in the past. It has to be someone that you’ve lost all contact with for many years. You also haven’t heard about them from anyone.
Do you have any idea what they’re doing now? In fact, let’s go one step further—do you know if they’re still alive? Chances are your answer is “I don’t know.”
Do comparisons, dear friend, really make a difference?
Shiv Kumar, a New Zealand-based online career and personal growth coach is based out of New Zealand. After a career spanning over 35 years in various corporate roles, Shiv Kumar’s mission is to inspire others and help them find fulfillment and purpose in their lives and careers. He is accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. His website is www.thinklifecoaching.co.nz.
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Tiny Buddha’s first post, 5 Tips for Stop Comparing Youself to Other People, appeared on Tiny Buddha.