Comparison is the Thief of Joy
I wrote a post on my instagram account recently and it attracted so many comments, and so many inbox messages that I realise I must have struck a chord that in some way, we are all vibrating with. I am going to retell that post here, add a little bit to it and suggest how we can work on escaping this unhelpful trap.
I posted a quick car-chat in stories (on Instagram); Gus had gone into the garage to find some cheese, and I waited in the car with Beamer dog, and talked about the wrangle with my feelings following a lovely evening with old uni friends. A lot of people contacted me to say they were feeling exactly the same way.
The weird thing was, I’d had a wonderful evening catching up with truly lovely old mates, but I drove home in my 23 year old £600 car with a broken dashboard, feeling like a failure.
The demon of comparison was whispering in my ear. My demon. It may be an old saying, but it holds true; Comparison is the thief of joy - I was bumping along in life feeling absolutely OK with my lot, until my eyes wandered around this other house...
My friends’ house - it is amazing. It’s big. It’s gorgeous! We were the same once, flatmates in the same position. How had I gone so wrong? There was a huge cooking island that was scattered with dishes for us all to pick and choose from, a utility room and a garden office, massive bi-fold doors, fabulous art and so much space! It was welcoming and convivial and the teenagers had spaces to make their own with sofa beds for sleepovers in their rooms etc - and I drove home feeling deep love for my oldest mates, mixed with a self-induced shame for not being able to ‘keep up’.
The feeling was uninvited and unwelcome. No one had done anything to compare their home with mine. No one had boasted, or pointed anything out, no one had ever once even hinted that I had less. It was all my brain, my own fears sliding in, and the really uncomfortable part was it went against everything I stand for. I was sabotaging my own beliefs.
I sat with the feeling of being less, of having less, and I effectively had a chat with it. I reminded it that I have wonderful friends who simply live in different houses, not better, just different.
I reminded myself that despite dropping into feeling that I am 'the worst off' of all the uni group, we are united in our privileged lives. I am exactly the same as them.
I am SAFE. I am healthy. I have healthy children and a home. I’ve got enough food, enough clothes and enough warmth. I have a car, they have a car. I have a kitchen, they have a kitchen. I have a sofa, they have a sofa, and also, I have a lovely partner who comes over and falls asleep on that old sofa, with Beamer, on a Saturday night.
I have enough and that's a bloody amazing position to be in. I neither need to feel shame at my things, or try to imagine that they have a less fulfilling personal, moral or spiritual life as a consequence of having their things. It is simply the stuff that surrounds you; the things you get to touch as you're passing through. It does not define you in any way.
If you find yourself falling into the trap of comparison, I urge you to sit with the feeling for a bit. Explore what it is that you want? Do you want all the stuff? Is the feeling shame? jealousy? Do not berate yourself for feeling that way, it's a very natural response given that we are programmed to believe that success is material gain, but what is it that is actually making you sad? For me, it was a feeling that I had 'failed' - that from the same starting point that we all had back at Brighton Uni in the early 90s, I was the one that had done the worst.
But, or course, I have not. There are thousands of ways to assess your self-worth that have nothing to do with what stuff you live alongside. They have enough, I have enough.
Make a list, an actual list of all the things you have access to. It will astonish you. Things that you may not even realise are 'yours' - library access, footpaths, days off, hot water, friends, charity shops. Enough.
Do not ever underestimate the joy of having enough.