Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Theodore Roosevelt supposedly said "Comparison is the thief of joy." I bought a lovely print of this quote from etsy when my girls started what has become a long running theme in our house that I subtly call "SHE GOT MORE THAN ME."

"She got 5 crackers and I only got 4!"
"It's not fair! She got ice cream at her party and I didn't get any!"
"You gave her more Cheerios! Why would you do that?!"

I am constantly saying "Keep your eyes on your own plate." and "Focus on what YOU have, what YOU want, not what anyone else has."

It has yet to sink in.

In this house of plenty, where my girls are safe and warm and have all their needs met, there apparently is a constant battle to feel like they have enough. I realize that this obsession with fairness is probably a normal part of their development (PLEASE TELL ME IT IS) but BOY HOWDY does it get old.

I bought the print for them. I wanted to post it somewhere obvious, somewhere they would have to look several times a day so it would eventually seep into their fairness-obsessed brains.

It now resides on my desk. Not because I couldn't find a place to hang it close to the girls but because I apparently need it.

Are you comparing the state of my desk to the state of yours? (I'm sure yours is neater.)

You see, I'd like to say I don't understand this compulsion to compare, but I do.

I am not obsessed with fairness the way my girls are. I don't think I deserve something just because someone else got it. But I do compare myself with others. Endlessly, it seems. As is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone, social media is unhelpful in this regard. We all get to pick and chose exactly what we aspects of our lives we expose online, creating a digital persona that bears only passing resemblance to our messy flesh and blood selves.

I am just as guilty of this, I suppose. On rough days, I tend to shut down online. I don't air our dirty laundry on Facebook, ranting and raving about my kids' poor behavior, and I prefer to post happy pictures where everyone is smiling. I don't take depressing photos and post them on Instagram. (Oh wait. Maybe I do.)

I love the connection that social media brings: your Instagram feeds, your Facebook updates, your witty tweets, they all help me feel less alone and more connected. That's why I started this blog years ago.

But sometimes the glorious photos, the funny little stories, the proud kid moments shared by others feed into the already constant thrum in my head of YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH.

Is it possible to look at the perfectly polished windows into the lives of others, their social media selves, and not compare or feel less than?

Or the equally soul-sucking tendency to read the misspelled rants of a chronic oversharer and not feel just a little bit superior?

I'm not suggesting that we cease sharing the magical moments of our day. Or capturing with our iPhones the cutest scene from our otherwise unphotogenic day. But as a consumer of these things, how can we recieve them in a way that is inspiring instead of depleting? How can we keep the connection but lose the comparison?

I don't know the answer to these questions, obviously.

For now, I'll just sit a little closer to this print and hope it eventually sinks in, to ME.


Stephanie said...

Lovely thoughts, as always.

And when my girls ask, "Why did you give her more Cheerios?!?" I've started saying, deadpan, "Because I love her more." And then we all crack up. Mostly.

KG said...


I just sent you this:


In particular, along this lines of this post, I loved "The Good Enough Mother," by Nerissa Nields and "No More Fakebook," by Sarah Emily Tuttle-Singer

Michelle said...

When my girls complain about something, I tell them, "Life's not fair." It's tough but true. Though it's not necessarily a bad thing. It just is.
It's taken me awhile not to compare and I still find myself sometimes but I've gotten better. I remind myself that everyone has different circumstances (and different ways or portraying those circumstances to the public.)

Ann Wyse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Wyse said...

I hear you. I use this trick on myself when I'm doing the comparison thing to my own self detriment: "Wait a minute! Who wins? The person with the *neater* desk or the *messier* desk? Is this really a win / lose scenario?"

Oops, sorry, had to delete and edit this comment so it would be PERFECT, you know? ;-)

Miranda said...

Oh, this is lovely. And I think I may need a print of that quote for myself.

I'm terrible at this. Terrible! Thank you for the reminder that most of what I'm seeing isn't the entire picture, and that my un-pictured life is pretty darn great.

Anonymous said...

perhaps you should also purchase the following print:
"Gratitude turns everything we have into enough" -
Be content with your lot & maybe your kids will stop too

Jennifer said...

I am for sure guilty of sharing the Shiny and Good Parts online, mostly because once the icky parts are over, I don't want to dwell. Heh. And who wants to see pictures of my sticky floors or listen to my kids whine??! When those feelings of envy sneak in (which they always do, it's only natural), I remind myself that we ALL have those same Things, parts of our days and life that aren't exactly photo-worthy or share-worthy. And like the others have said, I try very hard to be content for my kids, the girls especially- I think girls are particularly sensitive to the comparison thing. Setting a good example is important (even when it's tough!) You are wonderful & lovely :)

Elsha said...

I try to share a realistic picture of my life online, but I also try to remember that everyone edits to some extent. Definitely not always easy to see.

Hillary said...

I've been mulling over this post for days. I'm definitely guilty of only posting the shiny moments, and while I think I do that mostly as an act of gratitude, an acknowledgement of a life I love and am lucky to have despite the less-than-stellar moments, there's also a part of me that wants to show off only those golden parts. How to balance that?

For me, IG and blogs don't inspire envy. I think because you all are friends, I take those pictures as just, I don't know, happy messages. But Pinterest? Yeah, I had to cancel my account. Home stuff makes me envious, which is silly because I don't want a bigger house or a shinier one and yet ...

We're all such works in progress.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Anonymous- I love that quote. If only it was that easy, though!

Michelle- I used to cringe when parents said things like "Life's not fair," I now say it! Also: "life is not always comfortable." It's something for me to adjust to: that life is not going to be smooth and easy for my children. It's just not. Real life is messy and uncomfortable sometimes.

k said...

I love how intentional you are and your honesty.

Thank you for sharing both.

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