I came across the quote “Comparison is the death of Joy” by Mark Twain the other day and was struck by how succinctly it captured what I frequently hear, and occasionally do. Consider the following ways that joy is killed.
The new mum
The new mum gently nestles her beautiful baby boy in her arms. She gazes lovingly at her son, stroking his hair. He’s snuggled in a bunny rug, blissfully milk drunk. She’s just finished breastfeeding him, happy to do so in front of me.
She dips her head away from my inquiring eyes. “He wakes more at night than my friends baby”. “The other mums seem to know what to do more than me”. “I shouldn’t need any help now that he’s six weeks old. Other people don’t, so I’m not being a good mum”.
The teenage girls
The gaggle of teenage girls clamber on the bus, school bags awry, white school shirts sliding out of navy blue skirts. Hair unruly and a kaleidoscope of colours, voices loud, smiles wide, limbs as coordinated as a newborn colt. They are all breathtakingly beautiful, full of life’s vigour and the promise of tomorrow. Languidly two girls slide onto the seats opposite me staring down at their phones. “Joe asked me to the movies but I’m sure he doesn’t really want to go, I’m too fat. He should ask Chloe, she’s gorgeous.”
The young man
The young man proudly parks his new-to-him car in the driveway. His first car, a milestone in his life, earned through enduring many shifts at McDonald’s. Then he remembers, his cousin, a couple of years older than him, just bought a brand new car.
The psychologist who loves blogging, perhaps obsessively, compares herself to the inspirational and outstandingly successful Brene Brown (two of Brene’s talks made it into my 5 delightfully therapeutic TED talks)... and almost stops.
All of us
Our lives, never seem quite as good as that of our friends, strangers, or the rich and famous, splattered over our screens and constantly updated on Facebook and Instagram. We forget that others only post the highlights of their lives. We’re left with a sense of discontent and dissatisfaction follows all that we do.
Comparing ourselves to others is mostly a useless and destructive action. When its excessive, psychologists call it an unhelpful thinking habit or a cognitive distortion. You get hooked on compare and despair thoughts – seeing yourself only negatively, and others only positively. This thinking style can lead to depression and anxiety.
Notice and name your compare and despair thoughts. This helps to stop the mindless engagement with these unhelpful thoughts. Do this with self compassion. Castigating yourself for having these thoughts is also not useful.
Breath deeply and make a space to change the focus of your attention.
Actively choose joy over comparison.
Redirect your attention to that which is meaningful and valuable to you. To that which brings you joy.
Act in accordance with joy.
Feel the joy, those sweet but often fleeting moments.
Don’t let comparison kill your joy.
Let me know how you fight unhelpful compare and despair thoughts.
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