A couple years after Jenna and I had gotten home from our 11-month trip around the world, I vividly remember flipping through my Facebook newsfeed and coming across photos of a friend, let’s call him Carlos, traveling in New Zealand.
They were your run-of-the-mill travel photos – where Carlos was facing away from the camera with arms outstretched overlooking some picturesque landscape. Like this…
“Man, I wish I could have a life like Carlos…”, I found myself thinking.
Wait a minute.
I just quit my job and traveled around the world for 11 months. I probably have been to that same place where stupid Carlos is waving his stupid arms!
Yet the compulsion to compare, especially on social media, is so strong that it threatens to devour our happiness without even a moment’s notice.
“Comparison is the death of joy”
While the actual legitimacy of any quote from on the internet is dubious (like the one above), the meaning still rings true. The fastest way to zap your happiness is to start comparing your life to anyone else’s.
Why? A couple of reasons.
First, you’re not comparing your own life to Carlos’ actual life. You’re comparing yourself to an imagined life you’ve created for Carlos in your head. Let’s call the friend that lives in this imaginary life Fantasy Carlos. And by comparing yourself to the made-up utopia that Fantasy Carlos lives in, there’s never any way your life can measure up! Thus, massive amounts of suffering ensue because it’s not humanly possible to have a life as wonderful as the one you’ve invented.
Second, you’re completely overlooking the actual happiness that does exist in your life. One of the easiest ways to instantly improve your happiness is to take stock of the things you’re grateful for (see Gratitude).
Simple things like your health, your family, clean water running out of your faucet, your partner’s happiness, your pet, the cool breeze blowing in the window, the wisps curling off your steaming coffee…the list can literally be endless.
But how can you appreciate the wonderful things you do have going on while you’re worried about how much your life sucks compared to Fantasy Carlos?
By focusing on this rigged comparison, you’re trading something guaranteed to make you happy for something guaranteed to make you miserable.
Dealing with Comparison +
Using It As a Tool
I’ve found several strategies helpful in battling the scourge of comparison:
Don’t Mindlessly Browse on Social Media
This strategy was originally ‘Stay Off Social Media’ but for many, including myself, that’s not a realistic possibility. I use it to communicate my mentees and will have to use it more if I ever want to properly promote this blog.
But where the damage is done is mindlessly flipping through your feed without any purpose. Cut social media use out of your life as much as possible – whether that’s going cold turkey and deleting your Facebook (it never actually gets deleted, you can always reactivate it), setting a time limit on your daily usage or using a webpage blocker.
Often just being aware that mindlessly browsing is bad allows you to catch yourself.
Practice Gratitude Daily
As I mentioned before, continually reminding yourself of all the good things in your life is the best defense against the jealousy of comparison. There are lots of ways to do this but starting each morning with 3 things you’re grateful for not only helps ward off comparative thoughts but also gets your day moving in a great direction early.
Happiness is rooted in reality and the more you can keep yourself rooted in the present, the less like you are to fall prey to comparison.
Use Comparison as a Tool to Improve Your Life
The reality is that comparing yourself to others is a practice that never completely go away. So with this being the case, why not use it to add some value to your life? The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone, try to look it objectively.
So the photos of Carlos in New Zealand are giving you that jealous sinking feeling in your stomach? First, take a deep breath and let go of any negative self-talk that frequently comes with comparison; the thoughts of inadequacy that you’re not/will never be as (fill in the blank) as Carlos. It’s not true and is definitely not productive.
Now that you’ve let those feelings pass, what is it that Carlos is doing that appeals to you? In this case, it would probably be travel. So what are some actionable steps you could take to bring more travel into your life? Could you revisit planning a trip you’ve always wanted to take but never followed through on? Could you create a savings plan for that trip? Maybe you could discuss a new, interesting vacation with your partner?
Do you see how this went from unproductive, painful thoughts to a tangible improvement in your own life? So even though we may never truly escape the temptation of comparison, you can transform it into an extremely effective tool (more on this in Pain lesson).
This lesson has helped me increase the happiness in my life, reduce unnecessary misery and take tons of actionable steps towards a more fulfilling life.
Part of the What I’ve Learned (So Far) series.