“Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work”: Escaping the Bondage of Comparison

You may be familiar with the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  Research shows that this is more than a clever phrase: Comparing ourselves to others – whether looking “up” to people we see as better than us or “down” on those who seem worse – is associated with lower personal well-being (e.g., higher self-blame and lower mental health) and it makes it difficult for us to love. The distinctions and judgments we make of the people around us can trigger feelings such as fear, pity, irritation, envy, or self-pity, all of which put emotional distance between us. 

The trouble is, for many of us, such comparisons are almost instinctual – so what can we do?  Letting go of comparison takes intention and time, but these tips might help you get going in the right direction:

  1. Cultivate Compassion:Unlike pity, which includes an element of looking down on others, compassion puts us on equal ground with those around us.  In fact, the word comes from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.”  Rather than turning away from suffering, compassion turns towardit, tapping into our own experience to recognize the similarities between us, empathize, and offer genuine kindness.  It requires being willing to lean into discomfort and be vulnerable.  Practices such as compassion meditations* and celebrating others’ good fortune can be great steps toward developing compassion.   
  2. Practice Creativity:Before you protest that you’re not a “creative person,” consider that creativity has been described as “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected” and “the expression of our originality.”  Thus, creativity can look like anything from testing mathematical formulas to sculpting to planning events.  Try going beyond your comfort zone to take a class or to do something that scares you but that you’ve always been interested in.  It’s okay to be inspired by what others are doing, but “own and celebrate” the unique contribution youhave to offer and give yourself permission to enjoy the process of being creative.

Comparison is, paradoxically, about both conformity and competition, a combination that gets in the way of gratitude, authenticity, joy, and forging healthy connections with people around us.  It is something that often comes naturally to us, but with awareness and practice, cultivating compassion and creativity can help us recognize not only our own inherent worth but also that of those around us.  This, in turn, can provide conditions for nurturing what we may be actually seeking when we compare: self-acceptance, belonging, and love.

*See exercises found at https://ggia.berkeley.edu/#filters=compassionand http://positivityresonance.com/meditations.html

References

Brown, B. (2010).  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.  

David, S. (2016).  Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.  New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC.

Fredrickson, B. (2013) Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection.  New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Research by: Kayla Clawson Alva

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