I bumped into a friend on the street today, and after exchanging the usual pleasantries (as best I could, given it was early morning and I was dying for a coffee), our conversation turned to the topic of comparison.
I have yet to meet a person in life who doesn’t compare themselves to others - and suffer the consequences. With comparison inevitably comes self-judgement.
Their car is better than mine. She’s got a more expensive handbag. I wish my apartment was that nice. I need more followers on Instagram. How do they afford that lifestyle? Why aren’t I that thin? How does she have enough time to get eight hours’ sleep and watch all the latest episodes of Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club?
As hard as I try, I still struggle with it. In fact, I relate to all of the above observations I have either heard people make (or made myself in my head).
Social media, in particular, can make us feel acutely aware of how good other people have it, and how much their lives resemble a Victoria’s Secret photoshoot compared to our own extremely unglamorous existence. Whilst I am scrounging around looking for my lost opal card, racing to get a train or wishing I had something cooler to do on a Friday night than figure out which episode of SATC I haven’t watched five times, other people are highlighting their cheekbones, jet-setting off to exotic holiday locations and somehow looking good in microscopic bikinis after managing not to eat carbs.
Having all of these external things, however – whether material possessions, certificates of achievement, or a seemingly perfect family life – won’t guarantee happiness. I make this point because I have had ‘it all’ at times in my life, surrounded by fun parties, an abundance of cool friends and a hot boyfriend, and still felt miserable.
Sadly, this point was echoed by the friend I bumped into earlier today, who recalled knowing someone who had seemingly had the perfect life, and yet had commit suicide.
Whilst I believe it’s impossible to avoid comparison in some form or other, what we can do is be aware of it. When we notice we’re doing it, remind ourselves that we all project happier, more glamorous or more successful versions of ourselves than what might be the reality. Whether it’s uploading filtered images to social media, enjoying a champagne lifestyle or telling others we’re doing great when we’re not.
Back in ye olde America, President Roosevelt observed ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ (which was, for the Gen Zs, before social media was invented).
I like to reflect on this not because it shows Roosevelt magically knew how to resist comparison, but that he knew that it was not the most helpful tool in our emotional toolbox.