19 November 2012

On Comparison

Source: tumblr
I really reject that kind of comparison that says, Oh, he is the best. This is the second best. There is no such thing.
-- Mikhail Baryshnikov

I have given much thought on the idea of comparison lately. We compare a lot of things in our lives all the time, and not only the different options (which makes sense to make an informed decision). We were educated to live in comparison with others, from the grade and ranking system at school to advertisments on TV, from how we are taught to behave to what we are told to purchase.

It sounds like  we compare ourselves to other people, past situations or alternate outcomes a lot. And I think the comparison game makes us unhappy, for several reasons. Here are my theories...

Comparison makes us see the half empty glass

When we compare ourselves to another person or situation, we usually see what they have that we don't. In other words, we focus on what's missing instead of focusing on what we are lucky to have. We think our present ordinary situation is not enough. Which leads to unhappiness.

Comparison makes false promises

Comparison makes us believe that if we were in the situation we are comparing ourselves with, we would be happier, which often proves to be false. First because there will always be something "better" to compare our present situation with all over again. Second, because whatever we compare ourselves to is often not real. If it is a past situation, we may idealise it as time goes by. If it is another person, we only see the image they are showing to the public and not the full picture.

"Better" doesn't make any sense

What criteria are we basing our comparison on? There is no situation that is objectively better than another, if we except extreme situations (war, starvation...). The problem is, we are fed with comparison criteria, trained to believe that certain things are better than others. Bigger is better. Rolex is better than Swatch. Mercedes is better than Peugeot. And so on. But is it better, in any situation, really?

Should we stop comparing?

It would probably be very difficult to stop comparing a present situation with the past or the people around us. Comparison can be positive if it motivates us to take action toward a positive change. But it is certainly not if it leads us to compete with other people, be envious of them and blind to the things we are lucky to have.

In conclusion, next time I'm drawn to compare my current situation with someone else's or the past, I think I'll focus on what I'm grateful for instead. Because, no matter how much better another person's life seems to be, mine will always be better to me as it is the only one I actually get to live.

Sorry for the long musing by the way. I tend to be quite lenghty when I talk about questions I'm asking myself. What do you think about comparison? Is there any way to make it constructive?

PS: the castle on the picture is the home I'll never compare mine with.


  1. I recently thought about the term 'best friend'. It's a term we use so often and probably often without thinking of its implications. Is this person really 'better' then my other friends? Why? Does this imply that the other friends are less worthy? This classification doesn't even make sense to me anymore - so I decided to erase it from my vocabulary. I'm willing to say somebody is my 'closes friend' or 'the friend I truse most' because I feel like this is a quality that might be useful to differentiate. But does it make them 'better' friends? Nah. (Ok, sorry for this looong musing. Your post just really took up on my train of thought as of lately..)

    Well, anyways.. I totally agree with you - as long as comparison leads us to improving ourself or our situation towards a positive future: great! But comparing yourself with others too much leads to insecurities and unhappiness. Just think about what others see that compare themselves with YOU.
    I guess we kinda forgot how to be happy with what we got. Like.. do I need to feel awesome and super special to actually feel happy? Or is feeling 'neutral' (not feeling a need of any kind) or 'content' maybe what real happiness feels like? I think it does. I guess that overwhelming feeling of 'awesome'/'happy'/.. we are striving for is not a lasting one anyways. Is it? Being content is what is the real deal. No?

  2. I think instinctively we can't help or stop comparing, but we certainly can control what happens next. I agree that people get too carried away measuring themselves against others, or their possessions against what others own. It doesn't help that we live in such a materialistic environment.

    I think people sometimes mistake "being content" for a lack of motivation. That annoys me and I dislike having to explain that.

  3. Anna - That's very interesting! I agree that "best friend" doesn't make any sense, really. We have closer friends, who know us better, but in my opinion each friend has a unique relation and none is "better" than the other. It's true also that we can't be "happy" as in juming around and laughing all the time, to me, happiness is more a state of mind, a capacity to enjoy the present moment, the relationships and life itself. Maybe it is closer to "content" indeed.

    Lin - It is true that being happy with what we have can be seen as a lack of motivation or a lack of ambition in our society. Because comparison leads to competition, when you don't compare, and don't enter the competition game, sometimes you are seen as a "loser". But why would we have to "win" anything? It doesn't make any sense. I think it is really something modern society puts into our heads...