“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Sounds like something you might read on a tiny slip of paper from inside a fortune cookie, along with some Chinese lottery numbers printed on the back. Actually, these wise words are something Theodore Roosevelt said. It’s true. How many times have you looked at someone else and thought, “If only I were ___” or “If only I had ____”? Think of how often you evaluate yourself by comparing yourself to others. It steals joy.
The dictionary says that “comparison” means to examine the character or qualities of something or someone, especially to discover resemblances or differences. It’s a natural phenomenon, and it’s not necessarily unhealthy. Comparing ourselves with others helps us to work harder, to keep up in school, to improve ourselves, or even something as simple as deciding what’s appropriate to wear to a job interview. Certain self-evaluations are impossible to make objectively or on our own. However, when we compare ourselves to others on a consistent, unchecked basis, we can lose who we are and completely miss the purpose of why we, as individual creations, exist.
Compare yourself with the popular kid, the captain of the sports team, the smartest student in the class, the prettiest and most popular girls in school, or the cool kids. The inner voice says, “Wow, if only I were more like him”; “Why can’t I be more like her?” That’s called “coveting.” The Torah warns us against coveting what belongs to others.
When we compare ourselves to others, there are only two outcomes. One, I see myself as greater because the other person isn’t “doing as well” or as advantaged as I am, and this creates pride. Or, two, I see myself as less because the other person is doing better than I am or more advantaged than I am, and this causes jealousy, discouragement, or even depression.
We must take every thought captive, recognize their effect on us, and understand how to use them for good (2 Corinthians 10:5). Someone else’s success can encourage me to push myself to become a better person and give me a platform to encourage them in their hard work. Someone else’s struggles can give me the opportunity to relate to them, understand their perspective, and share the love and compassion that HaShem gave all of us.
If I’m looking to man as my judge, my approver, or my measurement of value, I’ll be disappointed (Galatians 1:10). I will lose who I am in the comparisons and strive to be someone I am not. I won’t come to know the full potential of my gifts because I’ll be either prideful or focused on my shortcomings as I falsely measure myself against others. Whispers of “if only I was better at this” or “why can’t I be like that” will steal my joy. I will never discover the unique path for which God has created.
Reconsider how you view others. Instead of focusing inward and judging yourself against them, pause and remember that any comparison you may make is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Let’s view others (and ourselves) through the pure, compassionate eyes of the loving Creator, and any negative thoughts will certainly dissipate. Realize that YOU are the only one meant to fulfill YOUR purpose on this Earth and that HaShem will strengthen you to do just that.