Have you ever heard the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy?” That great quote comes from former President Teddy Roosevelt. And I completely agree. But this week I realized that comparison is also a thief to feeling grateful—and without gratitude, how can we feel joy? Of course, like so many issues of awareness, this seems obvious. The key is to remember it on a daily basis. Because if you are anything like me, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of seeing and comparing what others have or are doing—and then overlooking the good in my own life. Fortunately this week, two great examples popped up to drive this idea home. Even better perhaps, they happened to others rather than me. Ever notice how we can often catch behaviors in other people far more easily than in ourselves?
The first example came from a friend of mine who was telling me that her 20-something daughter who is getting married. Finally. Depending upon how you feel about marriage these days, this young woman who I’ll call Carrie, has been living happily with a young man and their three-year-old daughter for about four years now. But for reasons I can only guess, they have decided it’s time to marry. The mom is happy, I assume the in-laws are happy, the bride, the groom, and hopefully the daughter all appear excited about the upcoming date. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for comparison to rear its ugly head.
From what Mom told me, Carrie is rather frugal by necessity and is well aware that her wedding budget is limited. Carrie’s parents are willing (and able) to kick in a modest amount, but choices and decisions will have to be made. First they selected a preferred date at the local family church where the wedding will be held. Then Carrie’s mom and dad offered to host the reception in their backyard. Next Carrie found a couple of possible dresses that are pretty and not overly extravagant. All was good until…another young woman who attends the same church decided to get married the same month as Carrie.
Apparently this is a BIG DEAL to Carrie. Mom thinks it is because the other young bride comes from more wealthy family and is pretty certain that the reception will be held at the local country club—not her parent’s backyard. All Carrie’s choices seemed great until she discovered that another other bride will be marrying very close to the same date. From a distance, the rest of us can ask ourselves, what’s the problem? Even though they know each other, neither bride will likely be attending the other’s wedding. Mom, of course, is doing her best to remind Carrie of how excited, happy, and yes grateful she originally felt about just getting married. But again, isn’t it always easier to see in others than in ourselves?
Making matters worse, I’ll bet that Carrie has spent months studying pretty pictures of dream weddings on Instagram, Pinterest and even Facebook. And have you seen the online ads for brides and weddings these days? Now, with the prospect of another wedding falling so close to her own, Carrie can’t seem to escape comparing what her wedding will “look like” in comparison to another. It’s hard to be grateful when comparing any dream with another—especially when it seems so close at hand. And I’m guessing she is also worried about what everyone else will be thinking of the two of them. Comparison can be vicious if allowed to grow and fester.
The other example that I encountered came from a friend named Nancy. Nancy and I were having a great conversation about how we had both rightsized our homes and how grateful and happy that made us. Nancy had recently sold a 3,500 sq. foot home in the Northern part of the county and moved to a 2,400 square foot home in Florida. While downsizing for her wasn’t without a few challenges, she agreed that both her and her husband were happy with the move and grateful for the benefits that came from having a smaller home.
Then Nancy happened to be invited to lunch with four new friends. After a great lunch, one of the women offered to drive them all home. The first home they stopped at was amazing. Huge and beautifully landscaped, Nancy felt a ping of envy. The second home was even more spectacular with several stories and a wide sweeping circular driveway. Nancy was now feeling more than just a ping. The third house surpassed both of the others. Custom built in an exclusive neighborhood, it put both of the other homes to shame. At that point, Nancy sheepishly admitted that she felt a little embarrassed to have her new friend drop her off at her far more modest home. It didn’t matter a bit that up until she saw those other women’s home she loved her new home and was grateful for the move. Again, once we start comparing ourselves to others, it is nearly impossible to feel grateful for what we have.
When Teddy Roosevelt said that comparison was the thief of joy he was living in a different time and yet he pointed out a truth that still applies. The thing is, Teddy didn’t have to deal with our overwhelming commercialized world. He also didn’t have to contend with social media constantly offering ads, photos and details from the lives of 500 of our closest friends—not to mention all the retailers trying to sell us stuff. While I’m the first to admit that it is fun and sometimes rewarding to view and be exposed to all sorts of unique and amazing products and experiences, the constant barrage of input can be overwhelming. And when it’s something you consider important, something you believe to be very near and dear to your heart, we are all hyper-susceptible to comparison.
Right now one of the most important things to Carrie is her upcoming wedding. That makes her very vulnerable to comparing everything about it to her own. Nancy just moved to a new part of the world, so it’s easy for her to slip into comparing her home and other aspects of her new life to her new friends. Personally I seldom compare my home, my clothing or accessories, or even the size of my house to others. But I have to admit when I see photos of exotic travel locations, or intriguing new technology pop up on my Facebook page, I too feel the twinge. And as a writer, I am constantly tempted to compare both my blog and my books to other writers. I’m guessing that every one of us has certain areas in our lives where we are prone to comparison. Yet if we do, it’s impossible to feel grateful for what we do have right in front of us.
Again, I think most of us know how necessary gratitude is for creating a happy life—and I’ve written dozens of blog posts about how important it is, myself. But maybe in this day and age it is time to update Teddy Roosevelt’s quote. After all, is it even possible to feel joy without feeling grateful? Like standing at the corner of a dead-end street, one direction is an endless path to the misery of comparison, and the other is a superhighway to gratitude. Each and every one of us has that directional choice to make on a moment-to-moment basis. The SMART decision is to always choose to celebrate, honor and be grateful for what we do have right now.