“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.” – Marcus Aurelius
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When a topic is repeatedly brought up by successful people, I know I should study it further. Honestly, I am very familiar with comparing myself to others. I have previously written about the comparison syndrome that I once dealt with as I used social media more often, finding my self-worth in likes and shares. And to fight this comparison to others, I quit social media for a year in order to regain a correct focus.
At this time, my wife and I were in our twenties living in Atlanta, Georgia. However, it wasn’t only on social media that I was comparing myself to others, but it was in my real life relationships, too. I was always trying to “keep up with the Joneses”, wondering why I wasn’t further along in life. (Let me remind you that I was in my twenties, so you know just how unfair this comparison was.)
This comparison was terrible for my soul. It ate away at all attempts to become a better human being, in a city where everyone was trying to get ahead. If there’s anything I learned from living in a city where the mindset is all about having more, it’s that I could never go back to that lifestyle. I was a terrible friend, too busy to actually build meaningful relationships. Instead, I penciled in five-minute attempts at lunch meetings, felt I was too busy for other people, and was never satisfied with the car I drove or the house I lived in. And while this had more to do with me than the city I lived in, my memories of that time in life are well-associated with living in a large city. (I’m still trying to work through that one.) In fact, my move to Colorado was partly an attempt to get away from it all. And even if my own self-discipline was what was truly keeping me from experiencing bliss–always looking to others for my definition of success and self-worth–I knew that needing to save my mind and soul from the same old negative cycle was the more important assignment.
Now that I’ve told you about the season of comparison that I experienced and am all too familiar with, I can tell you that I know why the individuals that I mentioned at the begining of this post said what they did. It’s because they experienced comparing themselves to others, just like I did, for no one can speak to the negativity that comparison can bring unless they personally experience it. But I do believe that when people make it through the depression that comparing one’s self to others can bring, and learn to embrace the person that only they can be, a true and lasting joy can then be felt.
Research shows that comparison is a negative never-ending cycle, too. This means that comparison is what keeps you from ever feeling like you belong somewhere, anywhere. Examples of this can be seen in all areas of life. Many times, managers are taught to compare their employees to identify their strongest and weakest links, rather than setting them apart, showcasing their unique skills. In this scenario, trust and relationships are very difficult to build. In social circles, people often learn to compare themselves in order to evaluate their current resources, and even self-worth. This unfortunate way of measuring can never build true friendships, and only leaves people wanting more, never satisfied, never truly belonging.
So, what state of being is better to live out than comparison? To know one’s self and to be completely in love with the person you are. And how does one do that? To understand what you are capable of, to put in the work that only you can do, to fall in love with the process, and to be humble and loving along the way.