This is a regular series of blogs focusing on creating balance through mindful activities.
Please read my first blog: Bringing Depression to the table to provide more context.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
This has to be one of my favourite phrases to pull out of the bag during a conversation about mental health. It resonated with me when I first heard it, and it still does today. But after many years of work and exploration, I feel it’s time to look a little deeper. A common theme I’ve tried to maintain throughout this series of blogs is asking better questions.
We judge people. Whether we notice it or not, we’re always comparing our values to other people’s. What I want you to ask yourself is: does comparing this situation make me feel better or worse about myself?
Think about that for a second. When you’re comparing yourself to other people, what ratio is negative?
Here are some examples:
– My best friend has a car. I don’t. It makes me feel like shit.
– That girl I went to school with has kids now. I don’t. It makes me feel useless.
– I used to be so skinny; now I’m not. I’m getting old (and fat).
But if you stopped to think about it for five minutes, you might see something different.
– I don’t have a car, but I live in the city. I’m so lucky to be here. I wouldn’t want to live out in the sticks like him. I don’t really need a car.
– If I had kids, I wouldn’t be able to travel as much as I do. She probably only goes away once a year. Besides, I don’t want kids until I’m with someone who complements me as a parent.
– I used to be skinnier, but I wasn’t happy then. I’m much more comfortable talking to new people. I’m much calmer in stressful situations. I’m much kinder to myself now.
And yet, here you are, comparing all the things that make you feel worse, but not the things that will empower you. We tend to gravitate towards the negative, focusing on the things we don’t have, instead of the things we do. I guess the point is, if you are going to compare yourself to other people, you have the choice to focus on the things that empower you!
Of course, we can take that too far. Let’s look at comparison in a different way. When it comes to arguments, we often gravitate in the other direction, comparing our strengths with other people’s weaknesses.
“I cannot believe she did that. How could she? I would never do something like that.”
Let’s say a friend of yours – we’ll call him Pete – forgot to call you on your birthday. You can’t believe it. You’re beside yourself. On Pete’s birthday, you had balloons delivered to his front door and spent an hour and a half editing your favourite pictures together to post on Facebook. In contrast, he didn’t even call you. So, now you go and speak to your other friends and make sure everyone knows what a douche he’s been. Fuck you, Pete.
How about, before we go off the rails at him, we think on it for a minute. Pete’s a bit forgetful; he also hardly uses social media, so doesn’t get reminders when it’s someone’s birthdays. I know, woe is Pete.
But here are some facts we’re not considering:
– When you put something in his diary, he’s always there; yet you often bail an hour before.
– Sometimes you are a little too sarcastic and often cause arguments by not knowing where the line is. Pete, on the other hand, seems to always dance on that line perfectly.
– Pete’s the first person there when you’re in need, where others seem to come when it suits them. And, if you’re honest with yourself, you could check in with people more than you do.
Have you ever thought you’re comparing your strengths with Pete’s weaknesses? You’re so wrapped up in the fact that you ‘would never do that’ that you can’t see beyond your own brilliance. There are probably twenty things you’ve done to poor Pete that he would never dream of doing to you.
The truth is, all this time, you’ve been playing Top Trumps, and you didn’t even know it.
Comparing other people’s weaknesses to our strengths, while not acknowledging the opposite, is a defence mechanism; your ego is dying to prove it’s ‘in the right.’
Now, this may seem empowering at first; I mean, who doesn’t want to be right? But, actually, you’re driving a wedge between you and the people you care about most. You’re also winding yourself up and attracting the exact thing you’re trying to avoid.
This doesn’t mean anyone can get away with anything at any point. Of course not. But it does mean, sometimes, you could reflect and realise that just because you’re thoughtful in one area doesn’t mean your friends will be thoughtful in the same way. That doesn’t make them better or worse than you.
You can also apply this logic to yourself.
One night you might scream in the mirror, “I would never have let him talk to me like that when I was younger. I was so much more head-strong then. Why can’t I be like that anymore?”
Perhaps that’s true. But maybe back then, you were quick-tempered, easily upset people, and were constantly on edge. If you stopped for long enough to observe, you’d see that you’re much more well-rounded now, much better in most situations. You’ve just been choosing to focus on a weaker point and idealise how you ‘used to be.’
The balance point is choosing to frame situations so they empower you whilst not knocking other people down.
They say comparison is the thief of joy, sure, but especially if you’re comparing all the wrong things.