Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison Is The Thief of Joy”.
And I’m not sure I agree with this.
Comparison is a tool, albeit a competitive one, that we use to gauge something about ourselves to another.
I can compare my car to my friend’s car. I can compare my body to a fitness model’s body.
I don’t see any type of intrinsic negativity in either of these actions. It is merely used as a benchmark, and with the right mindset I believe it could actually be an incredibly helpful tool. I think comparison can grant insight into our contentment levels of our own abilities/traits. And likewise, push them to higher reaches if we so desire.
Consider I have a brand new Honda Civic, and my friend has a brand new Porsche. Sure, I could look at my friend’s car and be jealous that it is better than mine. But I think that’s the key term here: jealous. There is a coveting aspect to the equation.
Just the same, I could look at his car and be happy that he had enough money to afford such a purchase. At the same time, I could be content with my own car. It is, after-all, a brand new Civic. Which, if compared to other older cars, would likely still be much better. Or an even worse case scenario, where I couldn’t afford a car at all.
That is why I see this as more of a mindset issue than anything else. One chooses to be jealous, or to be content. Just the same as one chooses to be jealous, or compete to get better.
I’m in very good shape. Yet I still couldn’t stand up to some of those male fitness models. I could compare the two of us and be simultaneously proud of my own body and proud of the dedication he granted toward his. This comparison could not only keep me content, but could also inspire me to be more competitive in the gym (or in the kitchen) to reach that same level of dedication. To push me to a new level where I would be even happier.
In fact, that’s probably one of the main reasons I’m in good shape now, because I seen others whom impressed me with their dedication to physical fitness, and inspired my desire to get better.
Surely, I could have just looked at them and been jealous and ate an extra few hotpockets. But that’s where the mindset issue comes into play. Instead, I was driven to reach a new level of my own personal contentment, whilst not disavowing theirs in the slightest.
It’s common to hear that this can result in an “unrealistic expectations” trap. Where you constantly feel inferior to others because you can’t reach their status. But it’s not an unrealistic expectation, if you don’t expect it.
I see this mindset divergence a lot within social media. People post their best life events to social media, and everyone else compares their average life to it. When constantly engulfed in the “big, adventurous” things your friends are doing, you may put yourself down for not doing the same. But you also don’t see the other side of the coin. You don’t see them at work for 10-hour days, you don’t see any emotional disappointments they face, and you don’t see any personal struggles they don’t broadcast. So you compare their best, to your average, and get jealous.
You must also factor in the negatives; everyone has shortcomings or failures. You may just not have knowledge of them. If you have that opportunity to look at the overall picture, you may not be so inclined to desire their lot as much.
And even if you did have the chance to compare them on an average to average level, so what? Does their success rob you of your chance of happiness? Happiness is not a zero-sum game. You can both be content and happy. It depends solely on the way you look at it.
I guarantee you can find someone who is poorer than you, but happier. And I also guarantee you can find someone that is richer, yet unfulfilled.
So I understand the message of this quote. And I do believe there is a chance that comparison robs happiness. But it will only happen if you let it.
Compare. Be competitive. Grow. Get better. And remember the cardinal rule: One person’s success does not take away from your own.