There’s a quote that’s made its way around self-help blogs (that’s been attributed to both Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt) that goes something like this, “Comparison is the death of joy.”
Quite frankly, I disagree.
There is no shortage of posts detailing reasons why you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. On the contrary, I believe saying don’t compare yourself to others is akin to saying don’t be ambitious. Don’t seek new adventures. Don’t learn from those who have what you desire.
In fact, comparisons often harbor discontentment, an innate emotional response triggered by failed expectations. Discontentment can be a beautiful tool for our growth and self-development, not something to be wholly frowned upon and eradicated.
Using Discontentment to Propel Change
We can meet discontentment with one of two responses. Either a) we reevaluate our current circumstances and gain a renewed sense of gratitude or b) we recognize that what we are doing (or not doing) does not align with the goals that we set for ourselves.
In either scenario, discontentment is a healthy kick in the ass that tells us that we’re either not internalizing a sense of gratitude for present circumstances and are setting unrealistic expectations or we’re not acting in a way that would meet those expectations.
It gets us to shift our paradigm and adjust our variables.
This may be an unpopular view because it encourages us to come to terms with our shortcomings and human imperfection instead of candy-coating it away entirely, vis a vis not even coming close to hurting our egos or aboiding feeling that we are anything less than special and unique individuals.
Oh how our egos groan
When we get caught up in our ego instead of working towards our goals, we get discouraged. When we see our goals being attained by others, our discouragement turns into jealousy.
Our jealousy can quickly decompose into self-doubt; a fear of never obtaining what we seek. We begin to label ourselves. We tell ourselves “I can’t…”, “I’m not good enough…” or “I don’t have her ______, so I won’t be able to _______”. This concept is especially true when applied to vague notions of beauty and success, for which there is no one definition or means of measurement.
Doing so is unproductive and disruptive to any progress we may have made and seek to make.
So should we avoid comparing ourselves entirely?
Not at all. If we’re able to remove our fragile ego out of the equation, perhaps we would recognize that we truly are missing something. Perhaps it is the self-discipline to work harder and longer, or the mindfulness to actively listen to our peers who want to enjoy our company. An ego-less comparison should lead to character and behavioral reflection, rather than material juxtaposition. It gives us a much-needed dose of humility.
Making Comparisons is Part of Our Nature
Making comparisons is an innate part of human nature. We’ve done it since we were children, through observation and learning by mimicking. As humans we often must compare to see why we’re not getting the expected results. To learn why the ball we throw doesn’t go as far. To find our limits and see if we can exceed them.
While this reevaluation of either our attitude or behaviors certainly may not give us good feels, or “joy” as the quote would have it, I believe it sets us up for greater joy and satisfaction in the long run.
A renewed sense of gratitude or the growth that comes from painful introspection is far better than the “joy” of barring ourselves that opportunity.