Here’s how I learned the reality of the phrase, comparison is the thief of joy, a phrase originally attributed to Franklin Roosevelt:
Every morning I would descend the ancient stone steps to my classroom at the bottom of the hill. Some days I’d slow down as I walked, soaking in the green mountains with their permanent blanket of clouds nestled in their creases. From atop the hill, you could see all of Quetzaltenango, the colonial stone houses butted up against the slabbed-together sheet metal shacks.
As was my routine, I’d write in a coffee shop after school for an hour every day and as I paced the cobblestone streets to the gym, I’d often think about how much I hated to be there. I couldn’t appreciate the beautiful rustic buildings or the slow-paced rhythms of the Mayan town.
Looking back at it, I see how crazy I was. I’d give anything travel back to that time and place and routine and city. I’d love to go back to that season of my life because everything, in retrospect, looks so perfect.
Comparison is the thief of joy? No: it’s the slaughterhouse.
I grew up hearing Roosevelt’s (or whoever’s) phrase, and always thought of it the same way you are now: That if you compare yourself to other people, or what you have versus what they have, you will be unhappy.
Today, as I reflected on my time in Guatemala, Cape Cod, Los Angeles, and a myriad other places, including Colorado (where I am presently0, I realized that it applies much more broadly. I realized that if I compare this season of my life in Colorado to that one when I was in Guatemala, I’ll always come out unhappy.
Just as how, when I was living in Guatemala, I was comparing it to other places I’d lived and was unhappy there, too.
You could live near the most beautiful beach and complain that it doesn’t have high enough mountains, like Colorado does. You can live in Quito, a beautiful UNESCO city in Ecuador, and be disappointed that it doesn’t have the infrastructure of Kansas City.
So it’s true that comparison is the thief of joy, but there’s more. The list goes on.
The more you compare anything to, well, anything, you seem to be less happy.
This applies to seasons in your life a well. Presently, I’m technically unemployed and longing to land a full-time job soon. But when I do, I’ll bemoan the fact that I have less free time like I did when I was jobless.
See how you can get into a habit of comparing things? The seasons of your life, places you live, jobs, or pretty much anything—and it’s a road straight to disappointment and complaint.
The happiest people I know seem to be the ones who aren’t doing this—they’re happy where they are. They can praise the crazy waves they rode in Australia without necessarily comparing it to where they are now, in Chicago. They were happy to live in the rush of a big city like New York, and now they’re happy to work in the slow suburbs like Littleton, Colorado.
They’re just appreciative of the differences between things, places, and people rather than comparative.
I’m trying to be more like this, but God knows I’m struggling. I catch myself constantly looking backward, imagining that that season I was in was empirically better than this one. For this reason or that one.
When we stop comparing places, for instance, we are suddenly free from expectations. We no longer need to think negatively about how Xela, Guatemala isn’t a good place because it’s not next to the ocean. Instead, we can let it be it’s own place—a beautiful place bursting with culture, life, and creativity, if only we’d stop comparing it to all the other cities we’ve loved in the past.
Stop comparing your present season to past ones—you have no idea what could happen tomorrow, propelling you into the greatest season of your life if only you’d stop comparing it to others you’ve had before. Time is a blank slate and you’re the one who gets to choose what happens next in your life.
Will you continue to hold onto all the experiences you’ve had before, hoping the next ones you’ll have will measure up, or will you just enjoy the ride, as it happens in the present moment?
This article on comparison is the thief of joy originally appeared here, and is used by permission.