“Comparison is the thief of joy.” —Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve struggled with it most of my life. Typically, I blame it on having a twin brother who is five inches taller with much broader shoulders. But if I was being truly honest, more likely, it is simply a character flaw hidden somewhere deep in my heart.
I’ve lived most of my life comparing myself to others. At first, it was school and sports. But as I got older, I began comparing other metrics: job title, income level, house size, and worldly successes.
I have discovered there is an infinite number of categories upon which we can compare ourselves and an almost infinite number of people to compare ourselves to. And with how flooded we are by social media, it’s easier than ever to constantly find someone “better” to compare ourselves to, which only serves to make us feel bad about ourselves.
Once we begin down that road, we never find an end.
The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. Certainly, I’m not alone in my experience. But it is a decision that only steals joy from our lives. And it is a habit with numerous shortcomings:
- Comparisons are always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others.
- Comparisons, by definition, require metrics. But only a fool believes every good thing can be counted (or measured).
- Comparisons rob us of precious time. We each get 86,400 seconds each day. And using even one to compare yourself or your accomplishments to another is one second too many.
- You are too unique to compare fairly. Your gifts and talents and successes and contributions and value are entirely unique to you and your purpose in this world. They can never be properly compared to anyone else.
- You have nothing to gain, but much to lose. For example: your pride, your dignity, your drive, and your passion.
- There is no end to the possible number of comparisons. The habit can never be overcome by attaining success. There will also be something—or someone—else to focus on.
- Comparison puts focus on the wrong person. You can control one life—yours. But when we constantly compare ourselves to others, we waste precious energy focusing on other peoples’ lives rather than our own.
- Comparisons often result in resentment. Resentment towards others and towards ourselves.
- Comparisons deprive us of joy. They add no value, meaning, or fulfillment to our lives. They only distract from it.
Indeed, the negative effects of comparisons are wide and far-reaching. Likely, you have experienced (or are experiencing) many of them first-hand in your life as well.
How then, might we break free from this habit of comparison?
Tips on How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
How do you stop constantly comparing yourself to others? Here are some useful tips that have worked really well:
- Be aware of its ill effects. Take notice of the harmful effects comparing yourself to others has on your life. Intentionally remove it from the inside-out to free yourself from the damage this mindset has had on you.
- See your own successes. Whether you are a writer, musician, doctor, landscaper, mother, or student, you have a unique perspective backed by unique experiences and unique gifts. You have the capacity to love, serve, and contribute. You have everything you need to accomplish good in your little section of the world. With that opportunity squarely in front of you, become intimately aware of your past successes. And find motivation in them to pursue more.
- Desire the greater things in life. Some of the greatest treasures in this world are hidden from sight: love, humility, empathy, selflessness, generosity. Among these higher pursuits, there is no measurement. Desire them above everything else and remove yourself entirely from society’s definition of success.
- Compete less and appreciate more. 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. The first and most important step in overcoming the habit of competition is to routinely appreciate and compliment the contribution of others.
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude always forces us to recognize the good things we already have in our world. Remind yourself nobody is perfect. While focusing on the negatives is rarely as helpful as focusing on the positives, there is important space to be found remembering that nobody is perfect and nobody is living a painless life. Triumph requires an obstacle to be overcome. And everybody is suffering through their own, whether you are close enough to know it or not.
- Take a walk. Next time you find yourself comparing yourself to others, get up and change your surroundings. Go for a walk—even if only to the other side of the room. Allow the change in your surroundings to prompt change in your thinking.
- Find inspiration without comparison. Comparing our lives with others is foolish. But finding inspiration and learning from others is entirely wise. Work hard to learn the difference. Humbly ask questions of the people you admire or read biographies as inspiration. But if comparison is a consistent tendency in your life, notice which attitudes prompt positive change and which result in negative influence.
- Compare with yourself. We ought to strive to be the best possible versions of ourselves—not only for our own selves but for the benefit and contribution we can offer to others. Work hard to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Commit to growing a little bit each day. And learn to celebrate the little advancements you are making without comparing them to others.
With so many negative effects inherent in comparison, it is a shame we ever take part in it. But the struggle is real for most of us. Fortunately, it does not need to be. And the freedom found in comparing less is entirely worth the effort.
Stop comparing yourself to everyone else’s highlight reels.
- USA Today covers a study performed by researchers from Lancaster University that highlighted the common feelings of depression that follows frequent posting on social media. It’s worth a read to see how platforms like Facebook can negatively affect our mental health.
If you’re interested in reading the study yourself, you can find it here. But be aware that the study itself isn’t accessible for free (while the USA Today article is free to read).
With your thought-provoking articles, Josh, you indeed show us that decluttering and having fewer things is not an end unto itself, but rather, a means to living a more fulfilling, generous life. Thank you for that! I’ve always compared myself to my wonderful, older sister to deleterious effect. No more! …I hope :)
Suzanne Rogers says
Glad to find out I am not the only one fighting this bad habit! And so glad to have some practical steps to be free from comparing! I absolutely need this freedom! Thank you!