Is there anything more true than the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”?
Having just written them down, I’m going to read those words again. Slowly.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Call it what you will. Comparison. Competition. Envy. Jealousy. The green-eyed monster. It steals. It takes away joy. It saps happiness. It lessens satisfaction. And yet, comparison is a tool we all use, every day, in every aspect of our lives, whether consciously or not. Is there a more natural instinct than to compare ourselves to others?
I wonder if the tendency to compare has become magnified with all the technology we have at our fingertips now. Has social media heightened our propensity to measure ourselves in relation to others and find ourselves wanting? Has the Instagram-able, Pinterest-worthy front we present to the world perpetuated what we think of ourselves in relation to the square-shaped windows into the lives of others?
Now that I’m a mother, these are questions I’m thinking about with some degree of seriousness.
Growing up my two best friends were considerably stronger than I was academically. I don’t remember ever feeling I was being compared to either of them. Their superiority to me in the subject of mathematics was fact, not subjective or something to be emotional about. But as a result, I worked twice as hard as I otherwise might have to keep up. I was proud when I did. Their success was motivational and I was driven by it, rather than being apathetic.
For this, I cannot begin to express my gratitude to my parents, and these girls are still my very best friends today.
But if this experience was something so dominant in my formative years, why have I spent so much of my adult life comparing myself to others? My career, my dress size, my home, my marriage – my children?! Because I do compare. We all do.
And if I look back at what has caused me unhappiness or dissatisfaction in my life, at the root of it all is comparison. Whether it was against others, or against what/who/where I thought I should be at any given moment. Comparison has been my thief of joy.
Now I think about my daughters and the life they’re going to have. Am I doing them the same service my parents did me? Or am I doing the opposite without realising it? Am I celebrating them for who they are, or am I comparing them to each other, to other little humans growing up around them, in the baby groups or the classroom, in our neighbourhood, on my Instagram feed? Am I stealing their joy?
As a mother, surely the most vital and sacred of my duties is to ensure my two girls become who they will become and are never made to feel less than. Because it’s physiologically impossible for them to be less than to me. Any mother knows this to be so. But did I make them feel it today? Yesterday? Last week, did damaging words skip off my tongue without me even realising it?
So now I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I’m on a quest to be conscious about not letting this happen. Not ever, not even once. Not to them – and not to myself either.
The most effective weapon I can think of to use against the tendency to compare is a simple one, one we can all use, and which costs nothing. It’s gratitude. Making a habit of gratitude, bringing it into my life in a conscious, tangible way. Holding on to it when the imposter comparison threatens at the doorway and makes a reach for the joy.
Keeping a gratitude journal isn’t a new thing for me – being a devout student of the school of Oprah, I started my first gratitude journal in the late 90s and kept it up right through my twenties. But then life and – more specifically – parenting got in the way and the only thing I had time to feel grateful for at the end of each day was the softness of my pillow under my head, so I stopped writing in my journal before going to sleep. In the last few weeks I’ve started the habit anew (thanks to my ultimate girl crush Rachel Hollis and her #last90days challenge), and it is every bit as life changing as its proponents say it is.
The principle of gratitude is that when you commit to writing down ten things at the end of each day that you’re grateful for, you spend time during that day looking for things to put on that list. Your focus shifts from the things that frustrate, upset and anger you to the things that bring joy to your life – the little moments amongst the melee: the sunrise you saw because your toddler had you up at silly-o’clock, the hour you had to yourself in the gym with the early birds before the day began, the taste of that first cup of tea of the morning, the friendly wave exchanged across the school parking lot during a hectic drop-off, the green light on your commute just when you needed it, the song that came on the radio and made your kids start singing out of tune in the back seat, the way the four year old danced to Taylor Swift like her little life depended on it while you were cooking dinner, the sound of your husband’s voice as he read the bedtime story, the wight of the toddler in your arms as you lowered her into her cot…
Once you start looking, the list is actually endless.
The difficult and frustrating moments don’t go away. But, my oh my, do they lose their power. After a very few days I noticed this. And then I wondered how many opportunities I had missed to stop and focus on gratitude over the days and years before.
Why gratitude? What has gratitude done for me? Very simply, gratitude has given me back my appreciation for the little things, for the moments we are guilty of letting pass us by. And it has also given me the beautiful gift of inspiration.
Instead of envying a friend’s gorgeous new home I was inspired by it, and started looking at my own house in a new light, seeing little changes I could make to improve it.
Instead of being jealous of another friend’s gorgeous figure it has inspired me to embrace my own, and take a new ownership of all my body can do, to use it even more, revel in its uniqueness, and know if I want to change something the power is in my hands to do it.
Instead of comparing my daughter’s reading or writing skills to any of the other kids in Pre-K I’ve stopped thinking about all that and focused on enjoying her little personality even more in every little moment – and this has made all the difference to our days and, I believe, our relationship.
Life is all about perception, and I choose to perceive the good. I choose to slay comparison and leave it there where it lies, useless but destructive no more. I choose to appreciate. I choose to stop and look. To take note of the wonderful and to invite it in to stay for a while. I choose the joy.
Maybe you will choose the same.