July 15, 2014

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

I was reading a beautifully crafted essay written by one of my friends and felt simultaneously thrilled by the brilliant analysis and beautiful prose, but I also felt a little pang of jealously at the ease with which he could produce such incredible work. Even if I  painstakingly edited 100 drafts of my writing, I would never come close to his talent.

Later that day, a different friend posted some photos on social media of an event he was attending. He looked like he was having the time of his life. So I started thinking about my own day, which felt a little, well, lackluster. I sighed, turned off my computer and reminded myself of what I already knew--comparing is always a trap, and it will not help me lead the life I want.

I see people falling into this comparison trap all the time in my practice. Social media bombards us with carefully selected detail of our friends' lives. What we often don't think about is the fact that those status updates and pictures don't tell the whole story. People generally only post or tell the most interesting, fun sounding parts of their lives. But when you start comparing, you can feel the joy fading out of your day or even start to criticize yourself.

One of my clients, Jackson (not his real name) came in feeling depressed about his weekend. He had been ruminating about how unhappy and lonely he was while his friends seemed to be thriving and enjoying their lives--at least it looked that way when he checked their status updates on Facebook. 

Jackson's brother works in the film industry in Hollywood. Although he does not do anything glamorous, on rare occasions, he does gets to interact with celebrities. When Jackson told his brother about how crummy he was feeling, his brother reminded him of how incomplete and sometimes artificial our comparisons can be. "Look at me," he reminded his brother, "my last Facebook post is a picture of me with Snoop Dog." And then he said something very insightful:
"Don't compare your blooper reel to everyone else's highlight reel."
In other words, be careful of comparing the worst aspects of your life with the best aspect of someone else's life.

Instead of comparing your life to someone else's, first focus on your own goals. Accept the things in your life you cannot change, and commit to changing the things you have the power to change. Second, express gratitude for the things you are thankful for, as I talked about in a previous post.  Expressing gratitude will give you new eyes to appreciate the things you do have instead of focusing on the lack of things you don't have. 

Life is not a contest; it's a journey. So make your journey meaningful!