This quote, by the wise Theodore Roosevelt, has been on my mind a lot lately. Especially this week as I’ve had a few conversations with some friends and family members about this subject. I’ve been having this nagging feeling that I just need to share some thoughts about the ugly thing that is comparison, because I just can’t get it off my mind, and heaven knows I need to be reminded of this just as much as the next person.
“Comparison is the thief of joy”. Think about it. When was the last time you found yourself feeling joy after comparing yourself with someone else? Probably never, am I right?
Whether it was making a comparison that you were better than someone else, or vice versa, it didn’t make you feel good. Right? Probably just resentful. Maybe jealous. Maybe bitter or prideful. None of those feelings are synonymous with “joy”.
Here’s a sad truth. We live in a world where we have been conditioned to be ashamed of our own strengths, and to be resentful of the strengths of others. How backwards is that? How unfair is that?
Some would argue that we should blame the internet, especially social media, for our tendency to compare ourselves to our friends. We see picture-perfect, intricately decorated cakes and flawlessly designed mansion homes on Pinterest. We see the shiny lives of our friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Instagram and start to wonder why OUR lives don’t look as glamorous. The internet, they say, is breaking down our self-esteem. But I disagree. While maybe social media isn’t helping the situation, it is not what is causing the problem. The thing is – it’s simply not fair to think that way. Someone’s Intagram feed is hardly an indication of what their life is actually like, day in and day out. And thats ok. That’s not a bad thing. People like to share the happy, positive, beautiful things in life with their friends. At least, I do. Nobody wants to individually list all their weaknesses and shortcomings, or negative experiences on a wall for all to see. You wouldn’t want to either. And there’s nothing evil about that. We need to just accept that people are people just like us, and their news feeds don’t define them, and therefore should not define us.
If you need to avoid social media altogether in order to prevent yourself from getting caught up in comparing yourself to others, so be it. But we can’t be blaming Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram for our insecurities.
Pinterest is not the problem. Facebook is not the problem. Instagram is not the problem.
We are the problem.
We are the problem, because we are too focused on comparing ourselves to what people around us are doing. We assume that no one has the same weaknesses or insecurities that we do, just because we don’t see them. But maybe that’s how some people are feeling about you and your life at this very moment. Maybe they think your life is perfect, and they resent you for it, because they’ve only seen what you’ve publicly shared in your filtered Instagram photos. But that’s just not right.
Why is that girl’s smaller dress size offensive to us? Why does that guy’s nice car make us feel badly about our current economic status? Why do we sigh jealously to see yet another one of our Facebook friends announce a pregnancy? Why is it disheartening to us to see pictures of that super adventurous friend of ours visiting Europe for the 99th time? Why do our neighbor’s lavish parties and trendily dressed children elicit eye-rolling on our part? Because we’re too busy envying and comparing our life to theirs to be happy for them. We’re thinking about ourselves and, why aren’t WE as in-shape as her, or driving a Mercedes, or expecting our third child, or eating macaroons in Paris, or throwing Pinterest-worthy parties? Don’t you think they deserve for us to celebrate with them just a little bit? We would want our friends to be happy for us, wouldn’t we?
We shouldn’t go to bed at night feeling bad about ourselves because of something we saw on Instagram. We shouldn’t have insecure thoughts about our own strengths and accomplishments just because our friends are doing amazing, happy things with their lives too.
Once you start comparing your life to someone else’s, it’s all downhill from there. Comparison leads to resentment, which leads to jealousy, which leads to us feeling horribly about ourselves, which leads to us disliking others, which makes them feel horrible too. Nobody wins. And now, we are trapped – we are afraid to share ‘too many’ happy things about our lives, for fear that our successes will make others feel badly about themselves. Postitivity is replaced with negativity. Now we’re ashamed of our talents, of our good hair days, of our kid taking his first steps. Someone will leave a back-handed, sarcastic comment on your photo,”Ugh, you’re so beautiful. I hate you.” Now they resent you, and you in turn are feeling guilty for having felt good about yourself for a second. Now you want to hide your talents “under a bushel”, rather than sharing our “light” with others (Matthew 5:15). See what I mean? Unfair. (See also: this post by my blogger-friend Katie, about letting yourself shine)
We need to ‘Stop It’, as the ever-so-quoted Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf once said. We need to realize that everyone has their strengths, and everyone has their weaknesses. They are all different, and one person’s strengths might be another person’s greatest struggle – but that doesn’t make one better than the other. It just means they’re different. One person’s successes may not be your successes, but that doesn’t mean they’re your failures. Everyone is in their own individual walk-of-life, under their own unique circumstances, so you can see how it’s so unfair to compare our strengths and weaknesses with anyone else’s. We need to learn to be happy for each other, without making it about ourselves. After all, it’s not as if someone else is succeeding or having a happy life to spite you.
Don’t be afraid to share the happy, shiny things in your life. Don’t hesitate to join in another’s joy when they share the happy, shiny things in their life. I promise, if we spend more time being selflessly, genuinely happy for one another, we will find ourselves feeling more joy, rather than being robbed of it. If we hand out more compliments, we will begin to notice and accept genuine compliments from others. If we refrain from resenting another for having something we don’t, we will better appreciate the blessings we do have. Everyone wins.