One of the ways my brain is wired to thing is through comparison. I’m continually comparing something to something else to see which is better and how the other could be improved. In a vacuum and focused on two things that are unrelated to me comparison is a wildly important and effective tool. The process of comparing things is a beautiful scalpel to cut away the extraneous and get to the root of why one thing is more effective or better than the other.
While comparison is a fantastic tool in comparing ideas, things, and whatnot it is a terrible tool to live my life by. A recent quote from the Tim Ferris’s podcast with Jim Collins (yes, I listened to it again!) hit the nail on the head:
“Comparison is the primary sin of modern life.”Michael Ray
Jim goes on to share that the days when he feels the least fulfilled there are often moments of comparison between him and someone else. What do they have versus what he has? What have they done compared to what he has done? What have they created compared to what he has created? In those moments there is only discontentment.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had several reminders of the ills of comparison. In some situations I was envious of what others had done and created. Sometimes I wished had more success like someone else. I wanted their ability to see the world differently or to have had the opportunities that they’ve had. Nothing crazy, but enough that as I look back I can see that those times involved feelings of discontentment.
I’ve also had situations going in the other direction when I was comparing myself to others to make myself feel better. Seeing how I’d already learned from the experiences I’ve had while they hadn’t. This is also certainly did not lead to joy or contentment. It may have made me feel momentary happiness, but it was quickly followed by the regret of realizing I was essentially deriving happiness from the misfortune of others. Another example of comparison gone bad.
In each of those types of solutions I was allowing myself to be lured into the appeal of personal comparison. What’s funny is that I already know and actively practice the antidote to personal comparison…
If I am instead grateful for what I have, where I am, and for what I’ve experienced there is no room for personal comparison. When I feel the clutches of comparison / envy / jealousy / schadenfreude grasping at me I need to remember to pause and be thankful instead. Yes, there is always more to learn, more to do and more ways to grow, but if I am thankful for what I have I will not be lured away. As a philosopher once put it, “happiness is not having what you want, it is wanting what you have.”
Jim goes in a slightly different direction when he feels the lure of personal comparison drawing him in. He focuses on creating something new. His mindset is that in creating something new there is nothing to compare it to. This seems like a wonderful strategy also and I plan on trying to adopt it into my practice as well.
Is my way right or is Jim’s the correct way to conquer comparison? It really doesn’t matter, does it? There is only what works for each of us in the moment as we find the discontentment that comparison always leads us to eventually.