Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Kristin DeKay

She’s got it all together. Wow…look at that vacation…that must have cost a lot, but then again, they make a ton of money, so they can afford it. Look how happy they are…ugh, their family is just adorable. They look so happy. I wonder if I’ll ever be that happy. Yikes, but that outfit isn’t doing her any favors…

Oh, he’s out golfing again?! Must be nice to go every single Friday. Meanwhile, I’ll just grind it out here at work… 

Look at that perfect Pinterest birthday party for her two-year old. My kids have never had anything like that…I can’t believe she has so much time on her hands. 

Oh here comes that guy. He looks so fit and healthy. Look at his arms. How does he have time to get to the gym so much? I must be doing something wrong with my life. 

On it goes…we look at someone else's clothing, face, or body with judgment and comparison. We compare what they are able to do in life – go on vacation, trips, etc. – or how much money they have. And social media provides the perfect breeding ground for this destructive behavior. 

Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparison creates dissatisfaction in us. It makes us want what we don’t have and steals the enjoyment of the things we do have. 

And lastly, comparison makes it impossible for us to be in close, genuine relationships with others. It fosters jealousy and judgment instead of vulnerable community. 

But as followers of Jesus, we are called to love others, not judge them. In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Yikes. Jesus, we need your help!

But how in the world do we stop? Can we really resist the urge to judge and compare? Yes, friends, but it’s going to take some work. 

First, we need to understand where comparison is taking place. Do we say these things out loud? No, of course not! We compare and judge in our thoughts, which in turn affects how we feel and how we act. So we must choose better thoughts. 

Did you know you can curate what you think about? At first, your mind may seem like the wild west, helplessly at the mercy of your automatic thoughts (which have a tendency to be negative). But you can change the bent of your automatic thoughts by overriding your default settings and instead telling your brain what to think. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Our brains are neuroplastic, which can work for our benefit or detriment. The more you think unhealthy, comparing, judgemental thoughts, the more automatic those thoughts will become. The more you think positive, healthy, joyful thoughts, the more automatic those thoughts will become. 

Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” 

This verse isn’t saying that God changes your thinking for you. He doesn’t barge in and take control, but gives us free will to choose. What will it be today? Ugly thoughts or beautiful thoughts? This verse implies that God will transform us as we change our thinking. 

You may be thinking, “Most of the time I don’t even know when I’m comparing or having negative thinking!” Thankfully, this is a muscle we can exercise. The more we practice the easier it will become to notice our thought patterns.

Here’s something that may help. Can you identify a physical feeling or an emotion? Maybe you sigh or smirk. It may be that you start feeling self-conscious all the sudden. Maybe you feel less-than. Or perhaps you feel superior or overly-confident? These could be signs you’re comparing. 

In these moments, you are ripe for change. Once you are aware you are comparing, consciously think something nice, beautiful, or kind about that person or say it aloud, even if that person is you.

To summarize: 

  1. Look for evidence you’ve been comparing (feeling down, upset, unsatisfied with life). 
  2. Interrupt those comparing thoughts the moment you have them. 
  3. Consciously think the opposite of that comparing thought, even if it feels forced at first. 
  4. Repeat until the healthy, kind thoughts are second nature.

This is how we change our thinking. We notice, we interrupt, we choose a different thought. And we repeat. At first, it will be through sheer force of will. But soon, with practice, we will realize that it’s becoming more and more automatic. The “renewing of the mind.”

Old you: Look at that vacation…

New you: I’m glad she gets to spend time with her kids. I’m glad she’s happy. 

Old you: Oh, he’s out golfing again…

New you: I’m happy he gets to take some time off, he deserves it!

Old you: Look at that perfect Pinterest birthday party… 

New you: She’s so great at that! I’ll ask her for some decorating tips.

Old you: Oh here comes that guy… 

New you: He’s worked so hard! I’m going to make it a point to compliment him.

This is not a one and done task. This is a practice that takes weeks, months, maybe even years to bear fruit. But the fruit is sweet. And it will create in you a heart that is kind, loving, and joyful. 

When we live free of comparison and judgment, our friendships deepen. Our work relationships aren’t strained by competition. We can be vulnerable and open in our communities. We can celebrate others without feeling threatened or jealous! We can genuinely come alongside others in their joys and be present in their sorrows. And we will develop a sense of inner assurance in our own life that, instead of causing us to worry about our lack, allows us to find contentment and joy in who we are and what we have. And that, friends, is something worth working towards.

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