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“Comparison is the thief of joy”

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Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Never in a million years did I think I’d be quoting a US President in a blog about body image and self-worth, but this one is just so perfect for this occasion.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” What does that even mean? And what does it have to do with body image?

To me this means that every moment of joy can be shat on simply by comparing that moment to one that could be better or worse.

For example, I’m very happy to be able to afford to live in downtown Toronto. I love my condo, I love the area, I’m happy with how my life is in this regard.

But… when I think about all of the people who have more than me, all of a sudden I want what they have. I think to myself “yah my condo is nice but it’s not THAT nice… not as nice as that other person’s”, and all of a sudden I’ve shifted from loving my place to having a “just okay” living situation.

On the flip side, when I compare what I have to those less fortunate than me, it’s hard to really appreciate and be happy with what I’ve got. It’s like this guilt sinks in… a “what did I do to deserve this when there are starving kids in the world?” feeling. At this point I’m not focused on all the hard work I had to put in to get here, instead I’m left wondering if I’m worthy of having it.

In both situations the joyful feelings of accomplishing a goal, working hard to get where I am, and loving the place that I live, are all stolen and replaced with either want or guilt. Wanting what I don’t have, or feeling guilty for having what I do have.

That sucks! Why can’t we just feel joyful all the time? Well, it seems like it’s part of the human condition to compare ourselves to others. Maybe it’s how we found our “tribe” when we were hunter/gatherers? I’m sure at one point it was a useful thing for us to do… but now it’s just stealing our joy.

In terms of body image, it’s a non-stop comparison between my body and the model on the billboard, the girl beside me at the gym, my coworkers, my clients, friends, strangers, everyone!

The constant hum in the background of an always-comparing brain is “who am I better than? Who am I worse than?” This goes on repeat until we find an answer. “I’m better than her because I have nicer hair… good, I feel good” two seconds later “She’s way prettier than me… now I feel bad about myself… I wonder if I changed my nose if I’d look better…” another two seconds later “well at least my thighs are smaller than hers… I feel good again.” And this ping-pong game continues, consciously or unconsciously, throughout most of the day.

There are two things to note about this way of thinking:

  1. YOU are the one deciding if you are “good” or “bad” relative to the person or situation in question
  • Who’s the one saying “uhg man I wish I had arms like hers… mine are so fat”? You are. You’re the one generating those thoughts, and the good thing about that is that you’re the one that can change them to build you up instead of break you down

2.There’s no JOY here.

  • We may decide we feel good because we’re “better” than another person, but that’s not lasting joy. That’s circumstantial, it’s fleeting, it’s not joy based in love, it’s false happiness based in a perception that one is better than another.

Good ol’ Teddy really hit the nail on the head when he said “comparison is the thief of joy”. Knowing that we have the power to change this way of thinking is our secret weapon to stopping that cycle of comparing and criticizing ourselves and others. Without comparison we are free to be and free to really start appreciating those joyful moments.

So get out there and live! Stop comparing your life, your body, your worth, to other people. You’ll be happy you did.

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