Last night I awoke to sounds coming from outside my open bedroom window. I groggily got out of bed and peered out into the darkness, hoping to figure out what the source of the sounds could be. My heart began to race as the noise continued, and I began to worry that someone was attempting to break into my house.
It turns out there was no thief trying to enter my home. Instead the culprit was likely a raccoon scratching at the neighbor’s trash bins that were not far from my window. The whole experience of thinking a thief was breaking into my home though made me think of the saying coined by Theodore Roosevelt—“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Oh, how comparison is so good at stealing away joy.
One minute I can be going about my day feeling fine and content; the next minute I’m a ball of anxiety because I noticed some way that my life doesn’t measure up to so-and-so, or doesn’t seem good enough in such-in-such area. Even though absolutely nothing changed externally, somehow comparison throws me into full-blown panic mode that something about my life needs to be fixed.
Maybe you can relate to the feeling of having your contentment sucked away by comparison. Maybe it was a picture your friend shared on Facebook that made your stomach flip, or someone asking you a question that inadvertently set off all the wrong alarms in your head. “So when are you having kids?” “When are you going to get engaged?” “So when are you starting college?”
While sometimes it’s easy to catch ourselves starting to play the comparison game, other times it’s not so obvious. Like a thief, comparison often sneaks in undetected by us and begins its destructive work.
So how can you tell if comparison is trying to break in? See if any of the following sound familiar.
- Feeling anxious after scrolling through social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.)
- Putting yourself down more often
- Feeling bitterness toward certain individuals (for example, if being married is a strong desire for you, you might feel bitterness when you see couples who are engaged)
- Complaining frequently about your circumstances
- Avoiding people or situations that stir up resentfulness in you
- Making hasty decisions to change something about yourself or your life (“I’m not thin enough. I’m skipping a meal today.”)
- Frequently feeling depressed, unsatisfied, or unfulfilled
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but all of these are ways I’ve personally experienced comparison “stealing my joy.” In every case, when comparison comes prying at the door of my heart, what it always tells me is that who I am is not enough. So instead of being able to live fully in the place that I’m at, I become completely distracted by worry.
Comparison steals our joy because it strikes at the very core of who we are. It sneaks in uninvited, grabs onto our sense of contentment, and runs off stealthily into the night—leaving behind a crazy mess of anxiety, bitterness, and stress to deal with.
But you know what? Half the battle is recognizing when the comparison game begins and then calling it out for what it is—a thief. And just like how I was able to dismantle my fear when I thought someone was breaking into my house, so we can dismantle comparison’s attempts to rob us by stopping and asking ourselves the following three questions:
- What’s really going on in my heart?
Remember, half the battle is identifying what the source of your anxiety and stress actually is. You can’t stop a thief unless you realize one is trying to break in!
- What’s the truth?
Like I said earlier, comparison steals our joy because it strikes at the core of who we are. What is the truth about who you are? Who would those who love you most say you are?
- How will I live?
When you’ve realized comparison’s sneaky little claws have latched onto your sense of contentment, and you additionally know the truth that you are completely okay, what are you going to do? Will you continue to let worry and despair grow in your heart, or will you let go of the anxiety you feel that you’re not enough?
So to summarize—catch comparison in the act, call out truth, choose contentment and confidence. Repeat.
I might be engaged in a lifelong fight to protect my joy from being hijacked and stolen away, but it’s a battle worth the fight.
Because nothing compares to the freedom, peace, and wellbeing that can be found in living right where you are, just as you are.
How about you—how do you experience comparison stealing your joy?