I had an old classmate, let’s call her Becca, that I hadn’t seen in over 10 years outside of social media. Becca’s life looked amaaazing on Facebook, with her enviable figure, impressive career, and picture-perfect family. Her posts usually left me feeling a little “less than”, as if I was “behind” in life in comparison. I had fallen for the age-old trap of comparing ourselves to others.
That was until I recently ran into her in a crowded mall. I wouldn’t have even noticed her if it weren’t for her loud and hateful fight with her husband.
In real life, Becca was carrying an extra 70 lbs, her kids were taking misbehaving to the next level, and her fight with her husband was less like The Notebook (“Awww, they’re just fighting because they’re in love!”) and more like John Wick.
To say I was taken aback is an understatement. The person I had held up as the gold standard for so many years didn’t seem to have it all together after all.
What’s Our Purpose in Comparing Ourselves to Others?
It made me wonder about other people that I envied or looked up to in real life. Was my boss’ life as pulled together as it appeared? Was my pastor always so warm and inviting? Or were there things going on behind the scenes that I didn’t know about?
And while we’re asking questions, why are we constantly comparing ourselves to others anyway? Are we trying to gauge our own level of success? Are we hoping to find that our peers burn dinner and wear the same shirt three days in a row just like us? Maybe we’re looking for some reassurance.
But the fact is that comparison never works out well for the comparer. We know this, and yet continue to beat ourselves up over others’ apparent success.
How to Stop Comparing Ourselves to Others
Are you ready to stop playing the discouraging game of comparing ourselves to others? The solution is to slowly begin to retrain your brain. The next time you find yourself comparing, remind yourself of these four truths:
- First, you don’t know someone’s actual and entire situation. Yes, they may have an impressive house and wardrobe. They may appear to have the perfect marriage and children. But is their marriage happy? Do they have a healthy relationship with their kids? Are they secretly drowning in debt? Maybe. And maybe not. An old English proverb says, “Be not deceived with the first appearance of things, for show is not substance”. And who could forget Aesop’s warning, “Appearances are deceptive”?
- Second, remember that social media is not real life. Did you know that 70% of women and 50% of men aged 18-34 edit their photos before posting them to social media? Or that women take an average of 7 photos for every one selfie that they post? (You can find more enlightening stats in How to Reduce Social Media Drama with 3 Questions.) Not many people snap selfies at the end of a long day, when their makeup’s running, their hair is a frizzy mess, and they’ve changed into their “house clothes”. (Am I the only one that likes to keep it comfy while I’m home?) No one takes a picture of their toddler throwing a fit at Target. Are we all misrepresenting ourselves? Maybe. Or maybe we don’t want to be there during those difficult moments, let alone subject friends to it. The point is that the friend you see on social media is usually the edited and absolute best version of that person.
- Third, you can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Jon Acuff once said, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I may look at a blog and marvel at their followers and success, but that blog has been up and running for several years, and my own blog for only a few months. I may see someone with washboard abs and feel silly about my 30-minute video workout. But that person has been hard at work for years to define and sculpt their body. Your middle may look similar to where they are now, or even better! You just can’t compare yourself while you’re in two different stages.
- Finally, and most importantly, comparison steals our joy. Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. If we’re constantly looking to others and wanting what they have, we’re likely not looking down to see what we’re holding in our own hands. If instead, we can develop a grateful heart (learn how in How to Become an Optimist), we’ll find that we have more joy in every moment, no matter what our circumstances. One of my old coworkers had a family that adored her, a job that she loved and that paid her well, and the admiration of everyone that met her. But she never felt as if she was good enough. She was constantly comparing herself to her peers, so she could never appreciate all of the fantastic things in her own life. In comparison, a friend of mine had a small, cramped efficiency apartment, a car on its last leg (or tire…?), and a not-quite-full-time job paying minimum wage. But she was one of the happiest, most content people I’ve ever met. She didn’t seem to notice that she didn’t have much, or that others around her had more. Why? Because she was too busy being thankful for the relationships and experiences and laughter in her own life.
Reminding ourselves of these truths won’t magically transform us into non-comparers overnight. (You’re right, that’s not a word.) But slowly, surely, you’ll find yourself comparing less and less.
Wrap It Up
So the next time you catch yourself comparing, remember that you don’t know anyone’s actual situation, and are likely seeing the best version of them, especially on social media. Tell yourself that you can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle, and that comparison will only steal your joy.
Comparing ourselves to others never ends well for us. So stop focusing on what other people have, and start looking around to recognize and appreciate all of the blessings that you have. I guarantee you’ll experience more contentment and joy when you finally end the comparison game.
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