I have a sickness, and I think it’s a pretty common one. No matter where I am in life, I find myself comparing my life to the lives of everyone around me. Whether it’s my body or my love life (or lack thereof), I’m looking to see if my life measures up. I personally think this sickness of comparison may be one of the number one causes of unhappiness and discontentment among all people, but especially young people.
When we’re living in a constant state of comparison, we often decide that someone else has it better than we do. For example, I look at some super tiny girls who do not even try to look so skinny and great, but yet, they are. They eat tons of food and don’t exercise, but they still look like a model. Then, I look in the mirror and see the imperfection that is my body and think about how much worse it would look if I didn’t constantly monitor what I eat and how much I eat of it and if I didn’t run or work out at least 3 times a week. If I start thinking this way (and I REALLY struggle with this), my first thoughts are, “Well…THAT’S not fair. Why do I have to try so hard to look mediocre while they look perfect without trying?” There are so many more examples of this in my life: my dad dying, me being single with all my friends getting engaged/married, grades, friends, me not knowing what I am supposed to do with my life, etc. These thoughts have the potential to consume my life, and I hate to admit that some days, they do.
There is another side to the sickness of comparison: finding satisfaction in accomplishing more than others. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am competitive. I love games, and I want to win. While this might be (pretty much) harmless in a game of Bananagrams or Settlers of Catan, it’s not so harmless when it comes to the important things in life. I usually fall in that first category of thinking everyone else has it better than me, but because of that, when I do accomplish something that others have not or feel like I’ve come out on top for once, I am proud. I pride myself on the little things such as being super disciplined or even being “spiritual.” I’m not saying we should never be proud of ourselves at all, but when that comes with feeling superior to others, it’s wrong. Anything and everything we have accomplished is only by the grace of God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). God has given us every good thing in our lives, so we should be grateful and not proud, for we’ve accomplished nothing on our own.
So, what is the remedy for the sickness of comparison? I’m just learning myself, but here are some thoughts that might help:
1. Remember for whom you are living your life.
I don’t know about you, but I fall into the trap of trying to please everyone and meet the ever-so-high expectations of others. A lot of times, my unhappiness that is brought on by comparing myself to others is not due to not being who I want to be, but not being who everyone else wants me to be. Using the example from above, I look in the mirror and think I look all right, but then no one seems to notice me or give me any indication that I am attractive, so I start thinking, “Okay, no. Guys like her, so I need to be like her.” Then, I come to the conclusion that to be like her, I need to stop eating unhealthy food and start exercising. These practices become part of my everyday life, and they are not bad things, but who am I doing them for? Am I doing them for God? No, not really. Am I doing them for me? Maybe a little. Am I doing for some nonexistent, potential guy who might notice me? Yes. And that guy is NOT who I should be living my life for. When I’m fretting about what I am going to do with my life and what career I’m going to have, it is mostly because I worry that I will disappoint my mom and my family and that I won’t live up to my reputation. Basically, I want to be seen as successful by others. I want to be important, to be admired. But see, all of this points to living my life for others’ approval. The verse that has been used often to describe my dad applies here: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Yes, God wants us to work hard! BUT, it is for Him, not for anyone else.
2. Be thankful for what you have.
It is pretty darn easy to start feeling sorry for yourself when it seems everyone around you has more than you do. And I’m not just talking about material things. I’ve struggled so much with being alone. I was a bridesmaid in three weddings in 2013, and I played the piano at two (I think). Not only that, at least three more of my friends have gotten engaged within the last couple of months. Don’t get me wrong; I am SO happy for them. But it leaves me feeling sorry for myself and asking God why. Why have I always been alone? Let me give you and myself a reality check: we are blessed beyond measure, and we have so much. Now you might say, “Wait. You don’t know what my life is like.” That is true. But let me ask you this: Do you have access to clean water? Do you have access to medicine and doctors? Did you get the opportunity to go to school and graduate? I recently read that 780 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. Many of them walk for miles and miles each day just to find water that is contaminated with bacteria and animal feces. Friends, we are rich! I doubt that these people would be super worried about not finding the perfect guy/girl for them, as their families die around them from illnesses that our doctors could cure; as they spend their days working instead of going to school. Yes, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves when all we think about is ourselves. If you want to compare your life to someone else’s, try comparing it to someone in Haiti or Uganda, and I think you’ll find that you have a lot to be thankful for.
3. Know that everyone has their struggles.
I think one of the most damaging aspects of the sickness of comparison is thinking that you are alone in your situation. You look around and everyone seems happier than you and you think, “I’m the only one who feels like this.” After my dad died, all I could think about was that everyone else my age still has his or her father. I tried to go to a support group for loss of parents/siblings, but everyone there was way older than me, so I felt sorry for myself. I felt alone, like no one could understand how I was feeling. Ah, but that is so untrue. There are so many young people who have lost their parents in tragedy and some who never even knew their parents. And even if the people around me didn’t really understand how I felt, they were experiencing their own struggles, their own trials. No one’s life is perfect. No matter how much stuff a person has, how successful he or she is, or how happy he or she seems, I promise you that person is struggling with something. We are a broken people who form relationships with other broken people and try to live our lives in a broken world. We all experience pain. Keep in mind that even if someone’s pain seems less than yours, it might not be to them.
4. Find true contentment in Christ.
I know this might not seem like the most practical answer, but it is the most important. None of these things that I’ve mentioned is going to make you happy forever. As I mentioned before, you can have all the riches, beauty, earthly love, and success in the world, but in none of that will you find complete fulfillment and satisfaction. True contentment only comes through a growing relationship with Jesus, not from getting what someone else has or being more successful than someone else. Now, I’m not saying it’s easy because I surely have not arrived. But I can say this: the closer I am to Christ, the more focused I am on Him and not myself. We are here to serve and glorify God in all we do with the gifts that He has given us. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, let’s focus on what God can do THROUGH us. God has a perfect plan, and we must submit ourselves to his sovereignty, throwing away how we think things should be. Until we do that, I’m convinced that we will be unhappy and discontent, stuck in our sickness of comparison.
I hope reading about my struggles with comparison helped you in some way. Thanks so much for reading…until next time!