Stop Comparing Your Life. Start Living It.

Envy is ever joined with the comparing of a man’s self; and where there is no comparison, no envy.” —Sir Francis Bacon

Most of us understand the foolishness of trying to compare ourselves to others. We would readily admit that no good ever comes from it. Yet, whether we are comparing our home size, paycheck, physical features, or any number of measurable (and even unmeasureable) things, we do it all the time.

Even though we know there are inherent problems contained in the process:

  1. We most often compare the wrong things. Because we can most easily compare the things that we can objectively measure, we live in a world that is great at measuring and comparing externals. Somewhere along the way, we decided that we could determine who is living a more valuable life by comparing clothes, cars, homes, paychecks, beauty, or Twitter followers. But externals are rarely a good measure. Net-worth has never been a good indicator of self-worth.
  2. We always compare our worst with their best. Comparing your life with others is always a losing proposition because there will always be people who “appear” to be better off than you and seemingly live the perfect life. After all, we always compare the worst of what we know about ourselves to the best assumptions that we make about others. Be advised, their life is never as perfect as your mind makes it out to be.
  3. There is no end to the comparison game. There is an infinite number of categories upon which you can compare yourself… and an almost infinite number of people to compare yourself to. Once you start down that road, you will never, ever find an end.
  4. Life isn’t graded on a curve. How you measure up against others holds absolutely no importance in your life anyway. It simply makes no difference. The goal of life is not to be better than 50% of the other people on the planet. The goal of life is to be the best you that you can possibly be.
  5. Comparison puts your focus on the wrong person. You can control one life – yours. When we consistently compare ourselves to others, we waste precious energy focusing on other peoples’ lives rather than our own.
  6. Comparison robs you of joy. Comparing yourself to others will always cause you to regret what you aren’t, rather than allow you to enjoy who you are. It will always steal the joy and happiness that is within your reach… and place it just outside of your reach instead.

Many a contented life has surely been stolen by the unhealthy habit of comparing ourselves to others. Comparing ourselves to others will always rob us of gratitude, joy, and fulfillment.

But even more than than, it prevents us from fully living our lives. It calls us to envy someone else’s life and seek theirs rather than ours. It is robbing us of our most precious possession: life itself. And while the temptation to compare may never be completely eliminated, there are certainly some practical steps that we can take to move past it. Consider a few of these:

1. Recognize the inherent problems in comparing yourself to another. Take a good look at the list above. Why would we want any habit in our life that promotes feelings of inferiority? Or consistently promotes envy, competition, and strife with no end in sight? Sometimes, just a reminder of the foolishness contained in the habit is the most important step in overcoming it.

2. Celebrate who you are. There are many wonderful things about your life. You are an artist… or a businessman… or a mother… or a good listener… or a generous soul. You have much to celebrate and are entirely unique. Any comparison between you and another person is like comparing apples to oranges. They aren’t living your life, you are. Therefore, you should expect the results to be completely different.

3. Focus inward. Value generosity, humility, goodness, kindness, and love. Begin to focus on developing the inward qualities of a simplified life and the externals will lose their beauty. And the quicker we find beauty on the inside, the sooner we’ll stop comparing things on the outside (skin-deep beauty, paychecks, or power).

4. Realize life is not a competition. There may be times when competition is appropriate, but life is not one of them. We have all been thrown together at this exact moment on this exact planet. And the sooner we stop competing against others to “win,” the faster we can start working together to figure it out.

5. Remember that nobody is perfect. We live in a society that glamorizes perfection. Consider that magazine racks are full of models and celebrities with perfect faces telling one-sided stories of great triumph and fulfillment. One important step to avoiding the lure of comparison is to remember that one snapshot in time never tells the whole story. The story is never told of the hours in a make-up room or the photo editing technique to cover the blemishes. The story is rarely told of their insecurities or failures (except to mention how they overcame them). That story doesn’t sell nearly as many magazines. But the truth remains: there are no perfect people – including you and including me.

6. Live as intentional as possible. Too many people live their lives without intentionality or thought. They rarely find a quiet moment to sit in meditation or solitude and examine their life – who they are and who they are becoming. As a result, lives are lived as a reaction to the events around them. But when a life is lived intentionally and thoughtfully, the comparison game becomes less attractive.

As humans, it is in our nature to compare ourselves to others. But nothing good ever comes from it. So let’s stop comparing ourselves to others. We were not born to live their life. There is no sense wasting our life (or energy) being jealous of theirs. Instead, let’s start living our lives. Let’s determine today to be good at it. After all, we only get one shot.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    You make excellent points. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” springs to mind. In the end all you can do is live your life and do the best that you can to meet your goals. You can’t take wealth or anything else with you, no point in achieving something that you’ll eventually lose.

    -Ravi Gupta

  2. says

    All six of your points are spot on and the sixth one sums it up well (viz. by comparing we rob ourselves of joy). There are certain pernicious aspects of our heavily mediated culture that condition us—program us without us know it—to feel this way, to always compare, to always want what he or she has. And you’re right, the desire doesn’t end. It’s never enough, until we decide it’s enough.

    It’s funny. I wrote an essay called “Stop Living a Lie; Start Living the Life,” which appeared on Julien Smith’s site last month. It shared some of the same view points (although it was utterly different and was more autobiographical).

  3. says

    HI Joshua,
    I really enjoyed reading this post- from experience I can agree with you that living more intentionally and with more purpose and mindfulness does help to limit the amount that I compare my efforts and my life with what others have achieved and can do.

    Also accepting that I am not perfect and that no-one is, helps to take some of the pressure off, which allows me to enjoy life more with the knowledge that I am doing the best that I can do.

  4. says

    Awesome post Joshua! I love the points you made, especially how our goal is not to be better than 50% of the world, but to be the best me I can possibly be. I love this because this is what I feel my calling is, to help people become the best possible “me” they can be.
    I saw on a sign once, “If you think their grass is greener, be glad you don’t have to pay their water bill!”
    Bernice
    Is it time to sharpen your saw?

  5. Debbie says

    Loved this! After playing the comparison game for many years, I know full well that it robs one of living a full life. I had never seen it from the perspective of comparing our worst with someone else’s best (or what we assume is their best). Life is too short to waste on thinking that others are better than us, or that we don’t measure up. We only have one life, and no-one wins when the comparison game is played.

  6. says

    What a post to re-center by. I think we can all use more of this, nearly all of the time. Personally, I struggle with celebrating me. Thanks for the encouragement, Joshua.

  7. says

    Great post! I’ve been trying to remind myself of both the dangers and futility of comparing my life to others lately, so this post came at a great time for me.

    Thank You!

  8. Joanne says

    Actually it’s incorrect that nothing good ever comes out of social comparison. How about society & civilization? It’s easy to say “simplify” while sitting in a comfy chair typing away from a laptop… and yes, self-conscious emotions and social comparison sometime make us feel bad, but let’s not ignore their benefits. These are good social monitors, inbuilt in our brains, that help us conform to the societal norms, and while this is not necessarily fun for the individual because it takes away personal freedom, it is good for society. It’s in fact the only reason we have come to evolve as a complex society. If no one conformed, if no one tried more, we would have no progress. Maybe the scientist who stays in her lab till 3am is not happy, because she doesn’t have as many publications as her boss, but in her social comparison frenzy, she has discovered a new vaccine. So before trashing our inbuilt social brains, which have proven pretty adaptive till now, let’s consider what life would be without a society and without social comparison. If you were ready to give away your comfy chair and laptop, then maybe I would trust your post more, but then there wouldn’t be a post, would it?

    • Audrey says

      Obviously you don’t read his posts regularly or you would see how off base you are about this. But then again he doesn’t need anyone to defend him.

    • says

      I will offer some thoughts in response to Joanne’s comment.

      What if we evolved as a species past the need to “compare” ourselves to others? What if the need to compare ourselves was actually a step back?

      “Conforming to societal norms” … who dictates what “norms” are right for everyone to conform to?

      If you constantly seek to conform, how do you improve?

      Instead, shouldn’t we be exploring our inner selves (as Joshua pointed out) and strive to be the best self we can be? Tough to do if you’re comparing yourself to others all the time.

      Then we can be stronger for those who “want” or “need” our help in their own journey to become better humans.

      Finally, I’d rather own my life, and live my life, rather than waste it comparing myself to others who are living “their” own.

  9. says

    Amazing post…and so true!

    REAL success does not come about via comparison. Instead, it is the result of intentionally discovering who you are, what you value, and what you want your life to be about, then proactively turning that image into reality.

  10. Pierre says

    Kinda hippy but kinda acurate for the most part. I recently moved to a remote (ish) island (for work) and am gradually dumping material goods. It feels very good.

  11. Casey says

    Thank you for these words. It is easy to read and harder to live but regardless I am grateful for reading this and as somene in the grip of depression, it gives me some light! I appreciate you and this writing.

  12. zzdianas says

    Comparison is an evolutionary imperative. Its purpose is to keep us safe; that is, alive.
    We use it to identify & attach to the ‘right’ (in terms of survival) person/group.
    It’s a useful tool to check how we behave within that group compared to other members. We want to be invited/allowed to stay if its a group we prefer to be in.

    Where modern humans get it wrong, is that we get caught up extrinsic qualifiers such as: looks, things, credit cards, envy, competition, consumption, starlets and gurus; rather than intrinsic observations like: ‘who am I, who’s worthy of my attention, conservation, how do I sit in the world, delaying immediate gratification in favor of earned satisfaction, how do my actions impact on others etc.
    Comparison, and subsequent judgement of of yourself against others is about you: how you see yourself; how you ‘fit’, how you behave; what you have accomplished. Comparison is NEVER about the other.
    HOW you USE comparison is the measure of you as a person – your character, your personality, your values. Comparison simply IS.

  13. Brett says

    Great post!!
    One of my favorite sayings is ” If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, maybe you should start fertilizing and watering right where you stand”.

  14. says

    Your “snapshot in time” point is excellent — and being in advertising and having used Photoshop, I know it’s dead-on! It also reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes: Feelings of failure are based on the assumption that now is the only time that counts.

  15. MaryB says

    Comparing myself to others and getting angry during the morning commute are two bad habits I strive to break. Thank you for giving me some great tools to help with the first battle :o)

  16. Serenity says

    In Alcoholic Anonymous there is a saying, “Don’t compare yourself out.” Meaning, don’t compare yourself to others because it may drive you pick up a drink. You just explained why!

  17. says

    I have been thinking that if I took all the time I spend worrying about what everyone else is doing, and how I measure up, and instead DID THE WORK I love and want to do *because* I love it… I’d get a lot more done, and be much more fulfilled. This post gave me goosebumps and resonated deeply. Thank you.

  18. says

    Thanks so much, I was meditating on this and letting it stew, it inspired some writing for me, check out my blog if you’d like to read it. I don’t really blog, but I read your journaling post, and thought I would keep a blog for my thoughts…I think you will really like the poem I crafted on breathinthesimple.blogspot.com

  19. Jo-Anne says

    Wow…. This was exactly what I needed to hear. I wish everyone could think this normal. I compare myself to everyone around me, and hopefully after this, I will slowly but surely stop punishing myself.

  20. Dak says

    Good philosophy, I agree that basing your self worth and choices based uoon comparison to others will set you up for disappointment and likewise limit your own potential.

  21. Kuwanna says

    This sums up my past experience with Facebook and why I quit and came back several times…I get teased about it but I know in my head why I was suffering and stand by my decision to delete my accounts back then and take a break. Thankfully I finally learned how to make it a useful tool to stay in touch with close friends and family, and also follow blogs and sites I enjoy (like yours!). But I no longer feel envious when I see the pretty images and picturesque lives of others…nor do I post excessively as to give others that same false impression of my own life. Thank you for your post.

  22. says

    Great post! I would love to re-post this on my blog, http://www.guidetoafabulouslife.com , if you wouldn’t mind. Like another commenter, I now try to use Facebook as a tool to share articles and follow inspirational people & websites like yours instead of as a means to compare my life with others. Too exhausting!

  23. says

    Beautifully written article! I especially resonate with the part about the road of comparison has no end. This is so true and it also keeps our attention diverted from the things that are the most meaningful to us. In fact, the game of comparison clutters up our minds in a way that we have to spend significant mental resources to really tap into who we truly are and what is most important in our lives. Your blog rocks!!
    Lots of love!

  24. says

    I LOVE this… Comparing us such a deadly trap. Especially for women. Comparing our bodies to others, such a foolish idea when you think of it. I hope I can break the cycle for my 2 yr old daughter. Thank you!

  25. Vivienne says

    I think we make positive comparisons and negative ones, the trick is to dump the type of comparing that gets us nowhere. The comparing that becomes a competition to beat out someone else or to prove yourself better than someone else. The comparing that initializes the chase for greed and power also falls into the negative category. We all have role models that we aspire to and we compare our behavior to those role models, sometimes this results in positive change. So maybe the act of comparing is not as deadly as it may first seem, its just what we do with those thoughts and feelings that is important.

  26. Tracey says

    More impressive if the models in the illustration weren’t young and gorgeous, no? How about some crooked teeth? A slightly frayed collar? Un-plucked eyebrows? A natural armpit? Bingo wings? With whom are we supposed to think that these two might have compared themselves and found deficiencies? Find two of your mates who’ve shunned fashion, drive a battered car, cut eachother’s naturally grey hair. Take a picture of them and replace the stereo-typical carefree wealthy healthy relaxed models illustrating this piece.

  27. Sherri says

    This is such a challenge for me, even though I work in mental health. I’m constantly battling against comparing myself to others (I’m on the losing end because I make so much less money than all of our friends) and I’m always ccomparing my life against what I think it should be. It’s a miserable and depressing cycle that is so hard to break even though I have all of the tools and knowledge to do so.

  28. says

    It so funny that I stumbled upon this post today!

    I have just started a blog for the same reason that you did, to keep track of my journey towards a new life and maybe to help someone else in the process. I´m not exactly writing about minimizing, but very close, about simplifying life. I feel that minimizing is a great part of simplifying :) I just wrote a post, one of my first, exactly about this, about not comparing your life to others because it takes away focus from yourself! How come it´s so easy in theory and so hard in practice?

  29. Laura E. says

    In short, the grass is green where you water it. Spend a lot of time standing on the fence and looking at your neighbor’s yard only leads to neglect of your own. Of course for me personally, this is a lot easier said than done. You have to make a conscious effort.

  30. Arianna says

    How do you learn to not worry? And to be genuinely happy? I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life and I can’t figure out how to get rid of it. I have every reason in the world to be happy, however; i just can’t shake the horrible thoughts, and the Debby downer moods that come over me. Do you have any advice?

    Thank you in advance.

  31. Sheena says

    You are my hero writer..really loved this one because it goes into the details of why comparison is the thief of joy and how to change it. well said!

  32. D.K. says

    A quick question:

    What is there to celebrate about oneself?

    I have given the question much thought lately and I am unable to think of anything about myself worth celebrating. I need an outside opinion.

  33. Jishak Kasparov says

    That was really mind opening points there. Really liked the points. But to stop comparing oneself is a much tuffer job than the points you’ve listed. But anyway wonderful points.

  34. says

    Wow! This was truly an amazing read. I’m going to write theses valuable points on my heart. An make an effort to remember theses each day as long as I live. Thank you so much

Sites That Link to this Post

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