We all do it. It seems to be our lot in life to compare ourselves to others. Society and the media only exacerbate this problem. From comparisons of intellect in school and the workplace to comparisons of beauty among our friends, family, and celebrities, our days are saturated with opportunities to feel bad about ourselves. Most of the real problem lies in the fact that we compare our weaknesses to others’ strengths. When you look at a celebrity and are envious of their looks, do you also Google “celebrities without makeup” to see that they really look just like you? When you read your friends’ Facebook statuses about how great their lives are, do you also think about the high percentage of things they are not sharing that are less celebratory and flattering? When comparing ourselves to others, we always just see one piece of the puzzle, and then extrapolate the rest of the puzzle as though we know for sure what the whole picture looks like, when we really have no idea.
While comparing ourselves to others often results in bad feelings toward ourselves, sometimes the opposite happens. That is, we feel superior to others and judge them for their apparent lack. In the recent reincarnation of the movie “Annie,” Cameron Diaz’s character asks Jamie Foxx’s character, “You think you’re better than me?” He answers by saying, “I do think I’m better than you.” While this is humorous in the movie, it is a dangerous attitude to have if we want to be truly happy. Often, we adopt this attitude as a defense mechanism. Putting others down (even just in our minds) is a way to try to lift ourselves up. The problem is, this doesn’t truly work. Deep down, we feel petty, prideful, and rude.
The bottom line is, comparing is always inaccurate, and always fruitless.
In a talk entitled, Stripped of Envy, the author says, “The practice of comparing ourselves to others is usually at the root of envy. It causes us to feel that we aren’t good enough and that in order to be acceptable we have to achieve more, acquire more, or in other ways appear to be “better” than others. It occurs when we do not value ourselves sufficiently as children of God and consequently feel we have to prove our worth by “doing” or “having.”
Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women General President for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said, “You may love to exercise vigorously for an hour each day because it makes you feel so good, while I consider it to be a major athletic event if I walk up one flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator. We can still be friends, can’t we? We as women can be particularly hard on ourselves. When we compare ourselves to one another, we will always feel inadequate or resentful of others. Sister Patricia T. Holland once said, ‘The point is, we simply cannot call ourselves Christian and continue to judge one another—or ourselves—so harshly.'”
In Joe Biden’s acceptance speech for his Vice Presidential nomination, he said, “My mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you. You are everyone’s equal, and everyone is equal to you.” (Italics added). I would submit that this is not just an American creed, but a creed for all humanity. God created us equal, and that status doesn’t change according to looks, intelligence, or achievement.
But knowing we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others and not doing it are two different things. So how do we stop? Here are some suggestions.
1. Pray and ask God to reveal to you your true worth. Really believe the truth that “all men are created equal.” Remind yourself each time you find yourself comparing, criticizing, and judging (either yourself or others) that nobody is better than you, and you are not better than anybody else.
2. Compliment instead of compare. Is there somebody you don’t like to be around, either because you feel inferior to them, or superior to them? Give them a compliment! Find something nice to say to them. It can even be as mundane as “I like your shoes.” Being kind to others always makes us feel good inside, and usually brings a smile to the other person. I have found that the moment I compliment someone, judgement ceases.
3. Look at what you have in common. Instead of focusing on everything that is different between you and others, notice your similarities. Chances are, you are more alike than you think.
4. Read It’s Just My Nature by Carol Tuttle. This book has been transformational for me. It teaches you about your natural gifts and abilities, many of which you may have thought were flaws and shortcomings. I am an introvert, and have always felt bad that I didn’t enjoy going to parties and wasn’t a good conversationalist. I wished I were more outgoing and had a bubbly personality. I thought that if I worked at it hard enough, maybe I could be like those other people who seemed to effortlessly talk to others and always seemed to be having fun. In this book, I discovered that my true nature is to be more thoughtful and quiet, and these are actually gifts that I can offer to those around me, instead of flaws to be corrected. By reading this book, I have come to give myself permission to be who I really am, and I have also gained a greater understanding of why other people are the way they are. With this understanding, I feel less need to criticize and compare. I highly, highly recommend this book.
What ideas do you have about how to overcome the tendency to compare yourself to others? Please share them in the comments below!
And remember, if you missed any previous installments in the Happiness series, you can find them all on my Happiness page.