The Comparing Game.Escape The Comparing Paradigm And Be Your True Self (2015)
Chapter 2: The Negative Impact Of Comparison
Now that we have developed a rather basic appreciation of our motives for comparison, let’s move forward and consider the impact(s) of such thought and action. If we are to accept the theory that all actions have consequences, then in this chapter we will operate under the assumption that our thoughts have consequences too. Rather, our thoughts and ideas have manifestations that greatly impact our mental health and emotional wellbeing.
If ever there were a guaranteed no-win situation in life, it would be meaningless comparison. The undeniable truth is that there will always be somebody who is ‘better’, more successful, more attractive, and more powerful. If our own potential is limitless, then so is everybody else’s.
The elementary problem with comparison – and the one we must constantly remind ourselves of- is that it is an entirely fruitless endeavour. There is never going to be a level we will reach that will signify a complete and utter fulfilment of life’s purposes. Let us analyze this phenomenon by attaching it to three important personality traits that we all have in differing quantities; contentment, pride, and motivation. We will use these to explain our need to compare. Take a watch for example, a simple item that is used daily by individuals everywhere. Yet, a watch is capable of representing so much more than just time.
Contentment should be a personal goal, people should understand what it will take for them to reach a place where they can go to bed satisfied and wake up every morning with a similar sense of satisfaction. However, our current state of affairs is pathetically different; we seek contentment in all the wrong places and are shocked when we do not find it. The relationships, the items and the things we aim to acquire in life are almost always dependent upon what we see around us.
On a small scale, we notice an acquaintance wearing a beautiful watch and immediately begin to covet it because it is better than the one we own, or maybe it is something we don’t own at all. If we cannot afford the watch, we will spend more and more time lamenting over the fact that we don’t have the means to buy one. If we can afford one, we will spend our time feeling unhappy that we have to stay within a budget. In the event that we actually can buy an even better and more expensive watch compared to that said acquaintance, we will experience temporary contentment until the next person comes along with a better watch.
An item that once brought us great joy in our own finances and abilities has once again reverted to reminding us of our own limitations as compared to others. This cycle may go on throughout our lives. We may spend our lifetime buying more and more watches but will never truly find happiness in the one that we own and will never begin to understand that the first watch we bought told us the time perfectly accurately. Considering its only purpose is to tell the time, our first watch was the perfect one all along.
Relentless comparison causes us to lose pride in our own qualities, and feel pride over our accidental triumphs. As our self-esteem grows over time, we become aware of our skills and feel confidence in our abilities. Consider the incident with the new watch, an individual may own a fantastic Rolex -bought after months of hard work and a savings account- and they may flash it in public, show it off to friends or just keep it to themselves under a sleeve, but the minute they come across someone with a newer model and more expensive Rolex, the most immediate loss is that of their personal pride in their own watch.
The individual loses sight of the features in their own watch that attracted them to it in the first place; there is a significant loss of pride. We forget to feel pride over our own worth, the value we place upon ourselves is immediately threatened once something better is on the horizon. It results in a significant loss of self-worth.
Adversely, the exact opposite may happen and cause further damage. When we come across people who have less than us- a friend with an old and scratched watch maybe- we inadvertently rejoice over our own superior item. It is unnecessary for human society to feel pride without achievement, but that is what we experience every time we compare ourselves to somebody. The universal stigma attached to wealthy people is that they are arrogant, this is hardly a coincidence considering that one’s’ worth is often measure according to what they own. So without much thought, wealthy people are grouped in one pot while others are separate in various different ones. In reality, all this might not be true and the richest of people may be as humble as any other low income individual.
Possibly the most emotionally damaging outcome of comparison is the lack of productivity that ensues. Comparing ourselves with others doesn’t actually make us better at what we do. It does not yield results any faster and it most definitely does not contribute to our growth as humans. When we see someone more generically successful than ourselves, how often do we actually make a greater effort to emulate them? Men who compare their pay grade to their bosses rarely begin to work especially hard and earn more money. In most cases they usually begin to fall into a slump of bitterness and develop jealousy towards the others.
Our comparison with others doesn’t make us any better or worse. The man with the old Rolex still owns a Rolex regardless of whether it is a newer or better model than the one his friend owns, and chances are that despite comparing his own watch to somebody else’s he won’t suddenly become motivated to become more productive and earn enough to buy an even more expensive one.
Motivation may certainly be derived through comparison, but in such cases it is important that comparison take place solely for the purposes of self-improvement. Looking up to others and being inspired is surely a step in the right direction, but it is rarely the outcome of the gratuitous comparisons we make every day. We will never accomplish our goals if we are frustrated with our methods. Our value is no more attached to other people's arrangement than it is to our own.
When we fall into this negative cycle of comparing and contrasting, we lose sight of who we are because of our focus on what other people are pretending to be. Our realities are compared to everybody else’s presentation. This further endorses our behind-the-scenes comparison with the reel.
When the average person is asked how they are doing, they rarely answer with “I’m exhausted, gaining weight and I make less money than my spouse”. That is how they might be feeling, but they won’t say it, they will most likely provide the perfunctory response of “Doing well, I've been busy. How are you?” It is frankly saddening to realize that most small talk we make and most conversations we hear around us are based on the complexes developed within most healthy, stable individuals. Going back to the example of social media sites; we see our friend’s post new photos of themselves and immediately assume they are having a great time in life while we sit around wasting our days on the internet. Rarely do we pause and realize that others are also on the internet, others are indulging in the same activity but in a different style. Rarely do we feel empathy and joy towards others before comparing it to our own state of enjoyment/fulfillment/ease.
When we look back on our lives, we rarely remember the passer-by upon whom we bestowed great significance. We will not be able to recall the spectacular belongings others owned that we didn’t. We are all responsible for ourselves and our ultimate evaluation will always take into account the way we lived our lives. Did we allow our trivial comparisons to become obstacles in the way of success? Did we spend too much time feeling sorry for not having what others did? Will we even remember the names of all the people we coveted and felt envious towards? Will we know what happened to individuals we used to consider less fortunate than ourselves? The essential focus of our existence should be to meet our own set standards. In the race of life, we will always be on the losing end if we continue to judge ourselves on the wrong scale.
Dietrich Bonheoffer said,” It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.” We can take that one step further; it is very easy to overestimate our own, and everybody else’s, achievements in comparison with what we owe ourselves.