Comparison is the Thief of Joy
Updated: Jan 26, 2020
I wish it weren’t true… I hate that I do it… but, I can’t lie. I compare myself to others. It happens more often than I care to admit, but mainly it occurs in yoga class, the part of my day that I struggle most. This morning when I caught myself staring in disbelief at my friend who has her leg over her tricep, fully extended, I had to pause. Really? How did her body do that? I can’t even touch the floor without bending my knees.
But then it occurred to me, so what? Sure, it’s really awesome that she has this incredible talent, and I admire my friend for her flexibility. But, the reality is that what she and every other person in the room can do on their mat has absolutely nothing to do with me, who I am, or how I can achieve my life purpose.
When I take a step back and consider what comparison actually does to the spirit, it’s unbelievable that any of us would ever engage in this act. Judging myself against others will never be a win/win. There’s always a loser, and most of the time it’s me! Comparing achievements, abilities, possessions, appearances… whatever it is that you are feeling insecure about… when you pit yourself against another, whether it be a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger, it rarely ends well. The result will either be you feeling “less than” or your ego being momentarily and inappropriately inflated. And what benefit does either of these emotions hold?
Many of us have shared with our children how important it is to be themselves, not to follow another, but rather to appreciate the components of their being that are unique to them. Sure, it’s easy to say that to our kids, but in the real world, do we truly believe that it applies to us as well? Or, do we also constantly compare ourselves to others… where they went to school, how successful they are, what they drive, how big their house is, how happy they seem, or how perfect they look?
My yoga teacher told me that we are all “perfectly imperfect.” I love that phrase because it give us permission to be who we are, exempts us from striving for perfection, something that many of us battle on a daily basis. I once heard that perfection is only fear in really good shoes. What immediately came to mind was an image of Carrie Bradshaw, from Sex in the City, walking down the streets of Manhattan in exquisite Manolo Blahniks. Sure, she strutted down Fifth Avenue, exuding the look of extreme confidence, but viewers knew that she, like the rest of us, had plenty of fears and insecurities. Did her shoes, outfits, social calendar, and fabulous friends help camouflage her fears? Most likely, but isn’t that what so many of us do to surpass our own anxieties and feelings of inadequacy?
When you engage in the act of comparing, you immediately disregard the notion of “perfectly imperfect.” Instead, the focus switches to what’s wrong, what’s lacking, what’s not good enough. This analysis of self vs. other dominates the brain, leaving little room for joy.
Then what is joy and why is it so important? Most likely, every person’s definition of joy is unique, but for me, joy is the genuine smile that a stranger shares with me, the magnificent sunset in the Oregon sky, or the warmth I feel when I sacrifice for a loved one. You know, it’s “the cherry on top of the sundae.” And, I believe it’s critical because it shows all of us what can be…what’s available to us…that something truly beautiful exists to counter the darkness in our lives. Joy certainly isn’t something that I experience on a daily basis, for if I did, would it truly be so special? But, come to think of it, is this actually an unrealistic request? Couldn’t we all benefit from experiencing more joy in our lives? If so, how can we make this happen?
Perhaps a good start would be to stop comparing ourselves to others. Instead, we might try appreciating and acknowledging the accomplishments, achievements, talents, and beauty of those who surround us, resisting the urge to use their gifts as a bar for to meet or surpass. Instead, perhaps if we tried to practice gratitude, kindness, and patience, not only with others, but also with ourselves, we might receive more glimpses of joy. Learning self-compassion and loving all parts of ourselves, owning our light and dark sides as we do the necessary work to heal those parts of ourselves that somewhere along the line “got lost.”
We are all on our own journeys, and each of us has a unique path in life. While at times it may look as if others are breezing their way through this process as we diligently struggle to find the next step, we cannot begin to comprehend what others truly experience until we walk in their shoes, even if they are wearing Manolo Blahniks!