Over-Comparison: The Path of Envy and Thief of Joy

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

-Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States

All life is designed to survive. From the moment you are born, you will have to compete with others for various resources. Food, water, relationships, love, status, and all the ingredients of a society. There are two primary ways to collect those resources, cooperate with others or compete with them. Those are not opposing terms. There are healthy and unhealthy methods of both cooperation and competition. Modern human society was born on the basis of a foundation between the balance of those two strategies.

However, modern societies in an effort to keep up with the fast pace of industrialization has opted to lean more into competition. To compete, we need to compare ourselves with others so that we can set standards of what we want to accomplish. We want to compete with friends, family, role models, rivals, strangers, and enemies. All in the effort to prove our abilities. Such as when we compare ourselves to celebrities on the television because we wish he had their looks, money, or fame. Or when we scroll our favorite social media apps and see the happy moments of our friends. Or amongst men, muscle worship.

While comparison might be natural that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy. A study of comparison on social networking sites suggests that social comparison orientation negatively influenced psychological well-being. Self-esteem taking the biggest hit. With nearly 8 billion people on the earth, you have plenty of people to compare yourself with. Bodybuilders, artists, models, CEO’s: all people we can follow at our fingertips and take a peak into their lives. Extraordinary people who set extraordinary expectations from themselves. Lives that can’t even be imagined by ordinary people. So much that it feels like a taunt.

The Mechanics of Social Comparison

Social comparison theory can explain how and why people value their worth by assessing how they compare to others. We tend to make all kinds of judgements about ourselves and it all has to do with how we analyze our self in relation to others. For example, you may have just started a new internship at a company. You are trained or introduced into your expected daily tasks and as you evaluate your skills and progress, you will compare your performance to other people at the job.

It usually starts by noticing the best person in the room. Seeing what they can do and how they perform. If we find our abilities don’t measure up to their talents, we might be driven to achieve more and improve our abilities. Then, we’ll start to establish peer groups with people based around our ability level. This gives us something to work with. It allows us to visualize what skills or achievements we want to adopt.

Upward Social Comparison

The is how we compare ourselves the most. We notice what others can do when we can’t do it ourselves. We mentally establish they’re better than us, and often focus on the desire to improve our current status or level of ability. Going back to the job example, we might focus on the people who are able to complete complex tasks much faster than the others. So we try to focus on increasing our speed so that we can be faster than them. However, without knowing the mechanics it can lead to failure.

Downward Social Comparison

This is more relatively uncommon unless we are in a certain mood. We notice what other people can’t do and compare it to something that is relatively easy for us. These downward comparisons are often centered around making ourselves feel better about our abilities or traits. We might not be great, but at least we are better than that person. In any hierarchy, nobody wants to be at the bottom. They may make us feel better about ourselves, but they feel terrible when everyone seems better than them.

The Consequences of Over-Comparison: Walking the Path of Envy

Comparing ourselves to others can be healthy, but if we do it too often we can alter our thinking patterns. He still has so much more than me… I just did all that work and I still not close to them… We we stop minding our own business and lose focus of our own progress that is when we create something known as a negative feedback loop. It causes our thinking spiral into a circle. I don’t have enough as that person – I need to get more – I have as much as them now – I see a new person – I don’t have enough as that person. This is what begins to slowly deteriorate your mental health. Always wanting what others have.

Creating Unrealistic Expectations

It usually begins with either admiration or awe. Admiration is when you observe someone and become impressed at the immense talent or skill for something. Awe is a sort of combination of both surprise and fear. Instead of being impressed at someone’s talent, you are surprised that they were capable of it and may become intimidated by them. Either emotion usually brings up the thoughts, “I want to try that” or “I can do that.” So then you create a standard based on that other person’s performance. You try, and fail. Then fail again. Again. And again… It becomes very apparent to you, that it’s not as easy as it looks.

Then begins the path towards envy, especially if there was a crowd that saw your new rival’s performance and your failures. Those with admiration usually maintain a respect for the person and will probably choose a more positive reaction. Those in awe usually are overcome by the fear they initially felt. In both cases, the person begins to develop feelings of inadequacy if they continue to fail to meet the expectations they made based on someone else’s performance. Admirers tend to internalize these feelings, while those in awe tend to externalize them. These trends aren’t set in stone but do affect self image.

Developing a Negative Self Image

When we fail to meet the standards based on the expectations we made, it can lead to a strong negative self-image. We start to believe that we failed because we are innately not good enough instead of thinking maybe we set the bar a little to high for our current progress. This can lead to assumptions that we are not capable or deserving of success. This can affect our mental health and well being and lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self esteem. We may even begin to doubt our abilities and lose confidence in ourselves over time which further hinders our progress.

The signs of a negative self image, is when you constantly say negative things and are critical about yourself even when the object of comparison isn’t in your mind. You may see them in the day and go home and continue to have negative thoughts. Or maybe the negative thoughts stop, but as you wake up and prepare for the day they resurface because you dread the idea of being in an environment where you aren’t good enough. You may even try to initially avoid those stimuli, but curiosity just gets the better of you. Or maybe you have friends that just can’t stop talking about the progress the object of comparison has made. This is why comparison is the thief of joy. You can’t feel joy when you are always upset.

Resentment/Envy

When your ego has been damaged by a negative self-image for too long you can start to build a lot of hate. First, hate for yourself for not being able to achieve what you wanted. Then hate for others for being able to achieve what you couldn’t in a feeling called resentment. Once you start resenting people you look at them in a different lens. Suddenly every further example of progress or achievement they make starts to hurt you.

Eventually you start to become or feel hostile to them because they have something you don’t. This pattern of feeling hostile every time they succeed can turn into envy. Envy is one of the most dangerous sins and cause of unhappiness. It’s when you have a such a strong desire of what someone else has that you will be tempted to take it, or at least destroy it. Have you ever heard of crabs in a bucket mentality? “If I can’t have it, no one can.” This is a signal that demonstrates the person has developed an covetous mindset and needs mental health guidance.

Loss of Focus/Negative Path

When we become envious of others, it can distract us from our own goals. Sometimes we may even enjoy this feeling of envy because it’s easier than the challenges in front of us. In simple terms, it’s much easier to tear down other people’s ambitions and dreams rather than focus on chasing our own. At this stage of envy you may attempt or successfully sabotage another person’s efforts. The goal is usually to get an emotional reaction out of them. To see them fall from grace or hoping to see other’s lose respect from them or their abilities. Sabotage does not improve anyone or any situation and is a dangerous response.

Present Moment Disassociation

Once you get to the point where you actively attempt to sabotage another person, you will lose joy in the present moment. Meaning you will miss out on all the positive experiences and opportunities being offered to you. You may even start to lose gratitude and not appreciate what you have. It can cause you to lose relationships, status, and even all the materials that you worked hard to gather. Not to mention that it can cause you to become the black sheep whenever something goes wrong. This is not a reputation that you want because it can easily cause your already fragile mental state to deteriorate even worse. If you already internalize negative thoughts, you may become what people say you are just to avoid argument.

Reversing the Path

If you’ve already fallen into the trap of envy and have done something terrible because of it, it’s okay. We all make mistakes, but you will have to deal with the consequences of your actions. To reverse the path, move backwards. Recognize that you attempted to sabotage or actively sabotaged someone else. You need to find a way to resolve the situation so that the damage is repaired. Once you’ve done that it’s time to go back to focusing on your own goals so that you can start your own progress. Positive affirmations can help you break down the negative self image you’ve created for yourself. Afterwards, you can realize that you set unrealistic expectations and need to set ones that focus on your current ability level.

How to Escape Overcomparison

If you are someone who constantly compares themselves to others and you feel like a general failure, is time to realize that you have a problem. The first step is to cut off all triggers that cause you to over compare. Unfollow people outside of your current level and find people closer to where you are. If you are in conversations that constantly mention the progress or success of others, then simply remove yourself and use the time to go work on your own goals. Eventually you will escape the habit of comparison, and instead build habits of building your own progress.

Focus on the Journey, not the Destination

The outcome is the least important part of the process. It is the method that brings satisfaction. If you want to be an excellent student you focus on learning the material not on getting a good grade. If you want to be a unique artist, you focus on expressing your vision, not on creating a masterpiece. If you want to be a start athlete, you focus on improving your physique and skills, not on winning the game. Attachment to outcomes is the driving motivation why we compare ourselves to others. When you stop focusing on the destination you enjoy the journey more and have less regrets. Earn something that you can take with you wherever you go.

Moving Forward: Replacing Envy With Admiration

In the depths of envy's sting,
Where discontent and longing cling,
A path arises, clear and wide,
Where admiration can reside.

Envy's gaze, so sharp and cold,
Fixates on triumphs, young and old,
It breeds resentment, fuels disdain,
A bitter brew, a soul's bane.

But admiration, gentle, true,
Beholds another's light anew,
It celebrates their victories grand,
Applause within, a helping hand.

Instead of yearning for their crown,
Admiration seeks their renown,
It learns from their ascent so bold,
A tale of strength, a story told.

So let us shed envy's shroud,
And seek the path where dreams are vowed,
Where admiration's light can beam,
A symphony of self-esteem.

For when we marvel at their grace,
And lift them up with warm embrace,
Envy's fangs will lose their hold,
And admiration's wings unfold.

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