By Donna Kane, MA
My friend’s dad taught me an old Yiddish saying that in English roughly translates to, “If everyone put their troubles on a table, you would probably want yours back.” I believe there is wisdom in that expression though it quickly gets lost when we start comparing ourselves to others. We may believe someone has more money and prestige than we do, their children are better behaved, do better in school, have better jobs than our own children, and their marriages or relationships are better or more exciting than ours. By thinking the grass is greener, the pressure we put on ourselves is relentless.
When it comes right down to it, comparing is competition. Comparing ourselves to others is not an idle, passing thought. It isn’t, “Oh look, Jane and Tom are taking a trip to the moon. How wonderful for them. They have had a difficult year.” That thought might occur to us but what we really focus on is that they are going to the moon and we didn’t even get to Rehoboth this summer. Competition.
Competition creates pressure. Healthy competition is finite, a game of chess or running a marathon for example. You compete, you finish, you move on. But the constant pressure we put on ourselves when we compare ourselves to others can be exhausting and unproductive. It robs us of our uniqueness and really offers nothing of benefit. In an article on the website Becoming Minimalist, Joshua Becker wrote that comparisons to others are always unfair as we almost always compare the worst of ourselves to the best of others. He writes that there is no end to the possible comparisons and it puts the focus on the other person, when it is only ourselves that we can control.
So how, in the age of Facebook and social media, do we learn to stop comparing ourselves to others? How do we learn to appreciate our portion, the greenness of our grass? It can be challenging when everyone is posting only their best and most beautiful on Facebook. My suggestion? Less social media and more gratitude.
Have you ever had such a stressful, disruptive week or month that you longed for your daily routine- the routine you usually dream of escaping? Upon returning to your routine, the sigh of relief, that feeling of comfort- those are feelings of gratitude. In that moment you are able to find the beauty in the ordinary. Finding beauty in the ordinary is a powerful tool in developing a habit of gratitude. There is a lot to be thankful for in our daily life.
Another tool to help you stop comparing yourself to others is to express your appreciation. Studies have shown that directly thanking someone who has been especially kind or thoughtful led to increased feelings of happiness. And this was not a fleeting emotion. That feeling was reported as long as one month after thanking someone.
Reviewing all the things you have to be grateful for, reciting them out loud or writing them down is another way to focus on the positive and minimize comparisons. Keeping a journal is helpful as it can help to clarify who you may want to thank and what occurred during an ordinary day to be thankful for.
So this is a good start. Keep in mind that we are wired to remember the negative and we quickly allow even the most amazing things to become “ordinary”. We put a man on the moon! Children are fascinated with this event. For a lot of adults it’s a shrug and a quick acknowledgement. Nurturing that childlike enthusiasm and being more mindful of all the little things in life can help us to remember that our grass is truly green. Remember what you read and see on Facebook is the highlight reel. Life is gritty and there are no exceptions. Keeping this in mind while cultivating a habit of gratitude will most likely keep you from going to the dark side of resentment and comparison. It may allow you to feel truly happy for your Facebook friends and to feel good about yourself as well.
By Donna Kane, MA
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