The Insanity of Comparison
March 29, 2019
One thing many of us struggle with is comparing ourselves to others. I recognized this the other day when I was at the airport. I checked in, and headed down toward the priority security line. (I travel a lot, and as a thank you for all the money I give the airlines, they let me go in the shorter security line.)
When I arrived in the line, however, both my security line and the regular security line were very short. For a minute, I felt grumpy. Why? I didn’t have to wait very long to get through the security line. I felt grumpy because I was comparing my wait time to the normal wait time, and there wasn’t a difference. My line wasn’t any better.
The Insanity of Comparison
This is the insanity that comes from constantly comparing ourselves with others. When our situation isn’t as good as someone else’s situation, we feel bad. Even when our situation is good, but just not better than someone else’s situation, we still feel bad. I think there are four reasons why comparing ourselves with others is a problem.
4 Reasons Why Comparing is a Problem
- Comparing ourselves with others sets us up for unhappiness because there is always someone better. The world is a big place. No matter how hard you work, there is always someone smarter, faster, stronger, or better looking. Comparers are excellent at finding people who are better. And this upward comparison makes us feel bad.
- Comparing ourselves with others makes it difficult to identify win-win scenarios. The security line was an example of a win-win scenario. I had a short line, and my fellow travelers also had a short line. But if we only feel good about ourselves when we are better than the person next to us, it makes it difficult to brainstorm scenarios where we can both win. And finding win-win scenarios is one of the best ways to ensure consistent success in relationships and life.
- Comparing ourselves with others doesn’t allow us to appreciate diversity in our strengths and abilities. We are all different, with unique strengths, abilities, and experiences. I might be better than my neighbor at writing up a research article, but she might be better than me at advising where to invest my retirement savings. The world works well when people specialize in the things they are good at. But if I find my worth from comparing myself to others, I can’t appreciate that diversity. It just makes me feel bad.
- Even when comparing ourselves with others leads to positive feelings, this can easily turn into unhealthy pride. If I am better than my neighbor, I might feel good about myself, but this is often at the expense of someone else and their situation. This can easily turn into an unhealthy pride and focus on the self.
How to Stop the Comparison Game
I think at some gut level, we know that comparing ourselves to others doesn’t help us in the long run. But it’s a hard habit to break. Also, it’s difficult to just stop doing something that has become a habit. Often, we need to replace the bad habit with something else. Next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to someone, try one of these exercises:
- Gratitude. If you catch yourself making an upward comparison (i.e., comparing yourself with someone better than you), try doing a quick gratitude exercise. Think about one thing you are thankful for in your life. You could write it down in your phone, or post a sticky note on your bathroom mirror.
- Kindness. If you catch yourself making a downward comparison (i.e., comparing yourself with someone worse than you), try doing a quick kindness exercise. Think about one thing you could do to improve the life of someone less fortunate than you, and do it. It could be something simple, like giving money to a homeless person, or shoveling the sidewalk of the old lady down the street. But make sure it is something you can do right away.
I think if we started replacing our comparing habits with other habits like gratitude and kindness, we would (a) feel better about ourselves and (b) help make the world a better place.
In what areas of your life do you struggle most with comparing yourself to others? What strategies have you found helpful to stop playing the comparison game?
[…] Lose the ideal. Some of my sadness and disappointment comes from comparing my life to an ideal that isn’t connected to reality. The problem is that the movies I watch, the Christmas cards I receive, and the perfect fantasy in my head about how my life ‘should be’ isn’t grounded in reality. When I compare my life to the ideal, I’m bound to be disappointed because there is no way it can measure up. It can be helpful to recognize the ideal for what it is (not true), and then stop playing the comparison game. […]