“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
The tendency to compare oneself to others is universal. From childhood we compare ourselves to our peers in terms of appearance, clothing, grades, athletic skill, popularity, etc.
It is understandable that we look for a yardstick of some sort to measure our achievements. The problem lies with the fact that this is a flawed metric.
For the majority of people we encounter, we only see the exterior, carefully crafted to meet the world. What we don’t see are the insecurities, uncertainties, fears, worries and confusion that challenge everyone from time to time.
We often don’t see that they have struggles, just like us.
Let us take a moment to consider the Facebook profile. We have all seen posts of the fabulous vacations, the talented children, the dreamy spouses of our friends and acquaintances. Recent data shows that for persons prone to mood disorder, spending time on Facebook can exacerbate depressive symptoms, and no wonder.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against vacation photos or cute kids, but I always remember that a meticulously curated social media page does not tell the whole story. For the most part those pages omit things such as a lukewarm performance review at work, maxed out credit cards, ailing family members or other emotional challenges.
When it comes to self-appraisal, we are exquisitely aware of the good, the bad and the ugly. For some of us, the bad and the ugly loom larger in our minds than anything we consider to be good.
Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to compare our three-dimensional self to the mostly two-dimensional images we encounter in society around us.
What we can do is shift the emphasis to being our best self. If you are going to compare, then compare who you were yesterday with who you will be tomorrow.
For those who are close to us, we have the privilege of sharing both the sweetness and the sorrow. With family and close friends, we are able to show ourselves for who we really are, in all our amazing complexity.
In those moments we learn that others are more like us than not: strong yet flawed, loving and fearful, bright but occasionally foolish. Rather than comparing yourself to others, use those moments to seek and nurture the best, most authentic you that you can be.
Maria Malcolm Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate at Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry.