Theodore Roosevelt famously said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Today it seems we compare ourselves to others more so than ever. From teens to adults, many are struggling with self-esteem issues rooted in comparison. We see filtered Instagram photos of “perfect” families vacationing in beautiful settings or entertaining in their spotless homes, and we can’t help but start down the dark path of comparison.
I’m warning you: comparison is one of the biggest black holes for our spiritual energy. While we could choose to make a comparison that causes us to be grateful or content, such as thinking about how fortunate we are for the blessings in our lives, unfortunately that is often not the case. Instead, we dwell on what is lacking, not what we are loving, in our lives.
More researchers are studying the negative psychological effects of social media and how it fuels comparison. A 2017 study by Holly Shakya of University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, found that the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. Another study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University and University College London (UCL) found that girls between the ages of 10 and 15 who use social media suffer more emotional and social problems than boys possibly because girls have a greater tendency to compare themselves to others and look at the number of “likes” they get on social media.
It’s not just young people negatively impacted by comparison. 88 percent of women said they compare themselves to images in the media — and most find the comparison unfavorable, according to survey results publicized just this month from the Florida House Experience, a mental health and addiction treatment facility.
How can we break this negative cycle? Become vigilant about stopping the need to compare. When you start down that path, replace the need to compare with the loving verb “care” and apply that loving verb to others and oneself. Remember, if we are okay internally and deprogram ourselves from living in fear to living in love, we will be at peace with our external circumstance, even if it is not what we prefer.
Here are a few practices you can incorporate starting today to live a life of caring and contentment, and not one of criticism and comparison:
1. Connect with Others
Limit your time on social media, and when you do use it, focus on positive sharing and experiences. Use social media to compliment or congratulate, not compare or complain. And make sure you schedule time for one-on-one time with friends and loved ones. Have coffee or lunch with a friend, pick up the phone and check in on a loved one or hand write a note.
2. Count Your Blessings
If you find yourself going down the path of "I don't have," turn that messaging off and reprogram your brain to focus on "I do have." Practice thankfulness at home by doing something as simple as sharing the three best parts of your day at the dinner table or starting a daily thankfulness journal. Volunteer with a local nonprofit or organization...it’s good for your health! This Harvard Health paper notes that volunteers benefit from the “happiness effect,” levels of happiness comparable to getting a pay raise at work!
3. Cultivate Joy
Be joyful for people and their success. God intended for all of us to have happy, healthy and fulfilling lives and when we feed negativity and compare ourselves it does nothing for anyone. It tears the others person down, and it tears you down.
You can also use your desire to compare as a tool to deep dive into your heart issues that need healing. Perhaps, for example, you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to another mom or someone at work. What is it that you think you are “lacking” that they have and how can you replace that with what you are “loving” about your current situation? How can you use this as a self-discovery tool to find areas where you can improve yourself?
When you make a conscious decision to stop comparing yourself to others, you turn that energy into something positive. Stay on that path of light and love and wonderful things will start to happen.