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Banish the thief of joy

A couple conversations this week led me to ask the question, How do you compare? But, please note: the question is ambiguous by design. Take a private, honest measure of your first reaction to it, and your initial response. Because, upon reflection, you may have thought, “Wait! What? Is that what she’s asking?” It probably is not.

Teddy Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy. Mark Twain went one step further modifying it to say that comparison is the death of joy.

I’m going to a wedding in a month and wondering what to wear. I’m lamenting my last decade’s weight gain and wishing I was in the physical shape that I was 10 years ago. But here’s the thing – 10 years ago I was wishing I was in the physical condition that I was 10 years earlier than that. And so on, and so on. Instead of comparing myself to what I once was, what I ought to be doing is imagining myself 10 years from now, looking back at my “today” self and wishing I looked this good.

You see where I’m going with this?

We constantly compare ourselves … to something else, to a past self, a fictitious “norm,” a “should,” an “ought,” a “not-there-yet” goal we are working toward, or, worse, “not-as-good-as.” Not as good as my mother, my co-worker, my neighbor, the influencer I follow, and on and on and on.

From the beginning of life, we compare. Who’s older? Taller? Has better grades? More athletic? Smarter? Funnier? We all do it. It’s common. We do it in our families, in school, in life. And then, we grow accustomed to it – so much so that we internalize the message and do it to ourselves. All. The. Time. I’m not as strong, as slim, as wrinkle-free, as thin, as active, as able.

Stop it! Stop stealing your own joy – from yourself! Teddy Roosevelt was right. And Mark Twain foresaw the influence of the Internet and all it’s attendant apps like Facebook, Instagram and more, when he said comparison is the death of joy. Life moves forward only. Whatever once was, was. If something – your weight, your health, your ability, your happiness – feels the same as it was in the past, great. But even that is not the past; it is your present. And if something from the past has changed, that too is your present.

You are always in your present. Shortly, God willing, this will become your past. Enjoy what you have now. Respect the work you’ve done to get where you are, now. Do not compare yourself negatively to others. Do not compare yourself negatively to yourself-of-the-past. If you can avoid comparing yourself in any way to any one, great. But know that you are always growing. Life is forward movement. Forward movement is growth. Growth is life. You are alive!

So, I ask, how do you compare? Maybe the question should be, Why do you compare? No matter how you rephrase it, know this: you can always look back. But when you do, do it with gratitude for being here now, do it with love for yourself and your progress. Focus on everything positive.

Banish the thief of joy.


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