Is she prettier than you, taller, thinner, luckier, happier? Did he get the promotion you wanted and didn’t get? Do they live in the big house opposite your rubbishy flat? Comparisons are the monkey in our minds, the stick we beat ourselves with. Comparisons make everything look smaller.
Helen is 33, a lawyer who began her career working for a charity raising funds for famine victims. She married Alex, an architect. They have two children and live in a house with a garden by the river. Helen recently started working again part-time for the same charity as a volunteer. She is positive, happy, and kind.
Gemma is 28 and my best friend. She is bubbly, outgoing, and fun. But Gemma has not found Mr Right after as many dates as there are stars in the sky and a year travelling in South America. She shares a flat with another girl, works in marketing (a job she says she hates), and just the mention of Helen is like a “nail in her skull.”
Compare Gemma’s looks, opportunities, and experience with 99.9% of the people in the world and she has it all, a golden life. But Gemma only compares herself with Helen, and it makes her miserable.
We make comparisons all the time: the food we eat, the TV programmes we watch, the shoes we buy. But when we compare ourselves to others, the tendency to seek out their faults leads us to examine our own, and we end up doubly dissatisfied.
Comparisons create envy and are often irrational. We don’t compare ourselves with those people who have less than we do, but those who appear more fortunate. We are fed daily doses of beautiful people in celebrity magazines and on TV. What we don’t see is their struggle to reach the top and stay at the top, the possible battles with drugs, alcohol, aging, and happiness that affects us all. What we do see is often deceptive, air-brushed, smoke and mirrors.
Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for an independent India took him to England where he appeared at Buckingham Palace half naked in a loincloth. When someone asked if he thought he was dressed appropriately to meet the monarch, he replied: “The King has on enough for both of us.” He was a mere fly, a soap bubble the British Empire could have swatted in an instant. But Gandhi did not accept that comparison and took his country to independence a decade later.
To avoid comparisons, you must concentrate on what you have, not on what you do not have. Think about that for a moment, then go and get a notepad and a pencil – don’t open a new file on the computer, really, go and get some paper and a pencil. Now divide the paper into two columns.
On the left, write down all the things you have, the important things: home, job, significant other, friends, holiday plans, savings, and anything else that is important. When you complete the list, you will see how lucky you are and face the blank side of the paper with greater clarity.
On the right, list what it is that you want. Be clear. Don’t write the impossible. Write what is reachable, in terms of self-improvement, as well as materially. Close your eyes for a couple of minutes. Think about how you are going to achieve those goals, then put the sheet of paper away in a drawer.
Every day, take out the list and read it. With the daily repetition of this action, you will begin to find more pleasure in the things you do have, and that pleasure will create an attitude that will make the things you want easier to attain, or strangely unimportant.
I write books. If I compare myself with EL James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, my achievements are inconsequential. Then, if I had the millions of dollars her books have earned, apart from buying a house with a garden by the river, I really wouldn’t know what to do with so much money, and would probably lose Gemma as a friend.