We Do Better When We’re Not Comparing Ourselves to Others
Comparison is a dangerous game.
Posted April 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
Theodore Roosevelt said the following about comparison, “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy.” When we compare ourselves to others, we rob ourselves of our own happiness. Through comparison, we either feel a sense of inferiority or superiority, and either route you take does not create lasting happiness.
These days, it feels almost impossible to avoid comparison with social media, the internet, and the constant access into people’s lives. At any moment of any day, we can pick up our phones and see a small moment of someone else’s life, and as a result, we may think: “Why am I not doing what she’s doing?” “I’m so much better than him.” Either way, this thought process only harms us and can be seen as wasted energy since social media is a tiny snapshot of someone’s lived experience.
Aside from social media, there are countless other ways to compare ourselves with others. We can compare how we look to strangers when we’re out running errands. We can compare ourselves to neighbors and assess what we have vs. what they have. We can compare ourselves to our relatives and what we’ve accomplished in our lives vs. what they’ve accomplished. Another common comparison scenario is comparing your work performance to your colleague's. This may in fact be encouraged by your company because they think that comparison drives competition and increases profits. It’s a vicious cycle to get caught up in, whether you started the comparison game or not.
How do we free ourselves from the comparison game and refocus the attention on ourselves?
The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that comparison doesn’t serve us, whether our focus is on being better than or less than others. Ending the comparison cycle is easier said than done because it can be alluring to compare yourself to others. This is because there will always be people that we’re doing “better” than. On the flip side, there is also someone who is doing better than us. You will always find someone with a better job, a nicer home, a better wardrobe, and the list goes on. The moral: If we compare ourselves, we will always lose. This is because there will always be someone who has more than us, no matter how high up the ladder we already are. Instead of falling into this trap, we must first acknowledge that comparison exists, but it doesn’t mean we have to engage with it.
A song that illustrates this point well is What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction. The purpose of the song is that no matter how good you are at something, or how beautiful you are when you compare yourself to others it robs you of your own joy.
What do you do if you want to feel good about yourself? Instead of building yourself up through witnessing other people’s shortcomings, a better approach would be to recognize that your accomplishments are only measured by how good something makes you feel. The person whose opinion matters the most is your own. Once you stop comparing yourself to others, you can really begin to enjoy what you’re doing and just live in the moment. Constant comparison robs us of joy and being present because the focus is centered on other people, not ourselves.
We may be able to control how we speak to and praise ourselves, but we don’t have control over other people praising us. It’s hard to avoid heading down the comparison trap when we receive praise from other people. When we receive compliments, it’s important to say thank you, and then remind yourself that you are no better than the person next to you, just because you received a compliment. A great way to bring yourself back to earth is to think of other people who are better than you in the very thing you received a compliment for. For example, because I’ve had a lot of education, people compliment my intelligence. To quell any sense of superiority, I think of all the people in the world who are much smarter than I am. This doesn’t make me feel inferior or less than. In fact, this practice relaxes me. It stops these compliments from getting to my head. The next time you receive praise or a compliment, I recommend gently reminding yourself that no matter what, there are always people who know more or are better than you. The focus should be on how can I enjoy what I’m doing more, not how can I outperform others.
What if our work or schooling puts emphasis on ranking or comparing ourselves with others? This is common—through bonuses, teacher of the year, the employee of the month, etc. How can we avoid the comparison trap when our environment is forcibly comparing us with others? We must acknowledge that the comparison game is being played, but we don’t necessarily have to play it. How we prepare for an exam, performance, or presentation doesn’t have to change, but when we receive our results, it’s important to not pay any mind to our standing. Remember, giving energy to our ranking, or comparing ourselves to others, takes away our own joy. What really matters is doing your best under the given circumstances.
You may be thinking that choosing the path of not caring about rankings or grades will cause you to perform poorly. But I believe that the opposite is true. Have you ever heard of the concept ‘being in the zone?' This means you’re exhibiting excellence in the moment. In these situations, which have been studied significantly, comparison is not present. We actually do our best in life when we’re not comparing ourselves to others.
When we don’t give into the comparison game, we have the opportunity to refocus our attention on ourselves, and to live a life that best represents our dreams and passions. When we choose to not let comparison dictate the way we see ourselves, the only person’s opinion that matters, in the end, is our own. Here we’re able to live our life to the fullest, one day at a time.