It’s happened before, but this time it started with shoes. Cute shoes. Booties, or wedges, or whatever you want to call them. I found a great deal online and ordered a pair on a whim, making sure I could return them when they (inevitably) hurt my feet. But when they arrived I was surprised to find that not only did they fit, they were cute AND comfortable! I was a little unsure how the style looked on me – I’m not a long legged gal; in fact, the term most people might use to describe my legs starts with “thunder” and ends with “thighs” – and I wondered if this style might make my legs look bigger. But in a moment of empoweredness I decided I liked them anyway. In fact, I loved them. Yes. Good.
Until I went to my daughter’s preschool Christmas program the next day and saw another mom wearing the exact same pair of shoes. A mom that’s at least six inches taller and 20 (ok maybe 30) pounds lighter than me. Her gorgeous slender legs just went on forever atop those adorable wedges. And suddenly I realized I could never wear my new shoes out of the house; they’d look absolutely ridiculous at the end of my short stumpy legs. I went home, taped them back into their box, and returned them the next day.
Now, I like to consider myself a fairly well-adjusted person. I’m usually pretty happy; I’m well aware of my limitations and my strengths and I’m usually ok with both. I don’t worry about my weight or appearance that often, but seeing my new shoes look so much better on someone else stole all the joy I had in them. Stole it clean away until I couldn’t wait to get those shoes out of my house.
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Last year we were able to build a new home. It was quite an upgrade for us in terms of space and design. I love my new home. Like really really love it. It’s nicer than I’d ever imagined. But we live in a neighborhood full of new homes, many of which are larger than ours, and as I walk into my neighbors’ houses it’s really, really hard not to start thinking: wow, this laundry room is WAY bigger than mine, or: you know, I really wish we’d been able to add a third car garage. Along with those thoughts comes a creeping, nagging feeling that maybe my new home isn’t as great as I thought it was…and all of a sudden comparison is beginning to steal my joy in my new house. My brand new house that I love and that is absolutely big enough and nice enough in every single way. What the in the world is wrong with me?
If you asked me if I’m satisfied with my life I’d tell you truthfully that not only am I satisfied, I also feel incredibly lucky. But comparing what we have to what others have is a trap, an insidious trap that really does steal away our joy. Unfortunately, I think it’s a pretty universal trap: it may not be houses or shoes, but chances are there’s some part of your life that you regularly compare to others’ and find lacking. Maybe it feels like other people have more friends, or more money, or more talents. Maybe everyone else is a better mom, or has a better body, or drives a minivan with magic doors that open and close by themselves! (I’m still waiting for one of those.) The point is, everything that’s absolutely just fine (or even great!) in our life can start to seem lacking when we stop enjoying and start comparing. Because comparison is the thief of joy.
So how do we stop comparing and get our joy back? Here are some things that will help:
1 – It’s important to recognize what we’re doing and then. just. stop. Easier said than done, of course, but if we understand what’s going on it’s much easier to stop the comparison train before it gets out of the station. Be upfront with yourself about what comparison triggers you struggle with, and then talk yourself through them. Focus on the things you love and the things you’re grateful for. You might even want to try making a daily gratitude list so you can use it to remind yourself to stop wasting energy on comparisons. It will help.
2 – Remember that someone else’s success or good fortune doesn’t take anything away from you. It doesn’t. Your life is still exactly the same as it was before you heard about someone else’s better blog or cuter hairstyle or happier marriage. If it was good enough ten minutes ago, it’s still good enough right now. And if if wasn’t good enough before, it’s not any worse now. Instead of comparing, try to be inspired by others’ success. And be realistic: no one has it all. Even the people you see who appear to have everything are likely fighting battles you know nothing about.
3 – Stop allowing social media to be your main form of connection with others. You ever notice that when a good friend calls you with great news, your first reaction is to feel excited and happy for her? But if a random person on Facebook posts the same good news your reaction is more like: stop trying to make the rest of us feel bad. Why is this? I think it’s because we have very little emotional connection to most of the people we interact with on social media. Posting and reading updates and tweets offers nowhere near the connection that an actual conversation does, and those small glimpses give us a distorted image of their reality anyway. When we’re connected to people, when we genuinely care about people, it’s easy to be happy for them, because we’re thinking more about them than about ourselves. But when we’re not connected and we don’t really care, we’re thinking more about ourselves and we respond with comparisons instead of joy. I’m not saying we should all quit social media, although I actually suspect we might be happier if we did…but I am saying if we want to stop comparing we should focus more on relationships, connections, and conversations and less on status updates. Actually connecting with people takes more effort than scrolling Facebook does, but I’m certain it will make us happier.
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4 – Lastly, remember what is most important. We’re never going to have it all together and we’re never going to have everything we want. But that’s ok. We can keep trying for the most important things, and we can remember this: “The most important things almost always involve the people around us.” (Thomas S. Monson) Not our stuff, not our status, and not even our success.
Joy in life is about people. It’s about connections. It’s about creativity and kindness and a job well done. And mostly, it’s about love.