The comparison trap

Thursday, November 24, 2016 Permalink

I’ve written before (a number of times) about the comparison trap… and contemplated the impact it can have on our confidence and happiness.

My recent post about happiness and success circled around this very issue and I found myself contemplating it even more so as I responded to comments.

It’s something I struggle with BIG TIME. And I know I’m not alone in that.

I’ve long been one to be kinda happy with my ‘lot’ in life until I look across the street. And see what they have. Or what they do. And whatever might have made me happy just minutes earlier is now not enough. Nor – usually – am I.

comparison

The place I had prior to my seachange was lovely. I wasn’t a high flyer career-wise, but I was on a good wicket and held interesting and edgy jobs. I’d spent 15-20yrs working hard to be where I was.

However… I’d look around me and there were those with AMAZING houses, fancy cars, doing fabulous things career-wise or came as a package deal with the husband, kids and white picket fence. And I’d look back at what I had and decided it wasn’t enough.

And then I made my seachange – which I hoped would short-circuit those desires.

Sadly I was still ‘me’. And though I was kinda happy with my nice car and lovely apartment on the beach I’d look back at those from my old world, earning more money and taking on new jobs. I’d look at those jetting off overseas and I’d bemoan my lack of salary and few job options. Although I was more contented in general, life felt unfair. When I compared it to others.

comparison

However… one day I was at my mother’s. She lives in a neighbouring town and it’s where I grew up. And I sat at an intersection in my little car and watching a woman on a bike. I recognised her from my childhood as the mother of someone I knew from school. I remembered even then (30+yrs ago) feeling sorry for this boy and his family, who had little.

I sometimes feel overwhelmingly sad when I think about how hard others have it. And yet… I continue to ONLY compare myself to those who are more fortunate. To those with MORE than I have. Rarely do I compare myself to those with less – of whom there are many.

I should know better.

Indeed, I used to work in international aid and development and am now part of a World Vision bloggers’ group receiving news and information about their work in the developing world.

 

I talked to a psychologist recently about the whole ‘identifying three things you’re grateful for each day’ things people do in diaries or on social media. It works she told me. It means we develop the habit of gratitude. Of reminding ourselves of our good fortune rather than focusing on the bad.

And it’s something I most definitely need to work on.

Do you fall into the comparison trap more than you should? Do you ever think to look at those with less?

the-lovin-life-linkyI’ve joined Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit and some other bloggers to help promote “ageing positively” and the Lovin’ Life mindset across the interwebs. You can link up via any one of us!

The Lovin’ Life Team includes:
Kathy from 50 Shades of Age
Johanna from Lifestyle Fifty
Min from Write of the Middle.
and Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit.


36 Comments
  • Amy @ Handbagmafia
    November 24, 2016

    It’s a trap I fall into a lot. It’s hard not to get bitter when circumstances prevent you from having the things others take for granted, but what can you do? It definitely helps to gain some perspective!

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      Yes, I think that’s the thing we’re so often missing. The instance I talk about – seeing the woman on the bike – happened when I was feeling particularly ‘low’ about everything and was a wake-up call as it was in stark contrast to me sitting there in my nice little car moaning about my life!

  • kathymarris
    November 24, 2016

    I used to be a big comparison person. I was always envious of silly material possessions of other people and even used to spend a lot of money buying them. However as I’ve got older and more content with my life I realise what a waste of time and money it was trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. A lot of my friends drive European cars (just to show off) and I flatly refuse to because I think they are a waste of money. I’d rather take a holiday someplace!

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      I have a little used Merc (I call my mid-life crisis car) I bought back in early 2012, when I had more disposable income. But even now I look around at other newer, nicer cars and envy the owners… thinking they must be far more financially secure than I am etc… *sigh*

  • writeofthemiddle
    November 24, 2016

    Oh yes I do fall into the comparison trap a lot but I am aware I’m doing it and try and pull myself up on it. I’ve always wanted to be taller with longer legs and slimmer too of course so often my comparison trap habits zero in on that stuff. I find Instagram fashion pics can get me down – clothes look so much nicer on tall, slim people. I love maxi dresses and would like to buy one (or two) but they don’t make them for short people. They would drag on the ground on me. I often feel a little envy for some of the nice overseas holidays people go on too. However, generally I’m much better at not letting myself get sucked into the comparison trap. I am generally aware that I am lucky to have what I do have and I practice gratitude – because yes it really does work! 🙂 p.s. that little animated video is brilliant!! #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      I quite Instagram for a while Min and for me it was more about life-envy of those in relationships or constantly out with friends drinking nice champagne, or with their kids etc… It felt very confronting that I had none of that.

      • Mystery Case
        November 24, 2016

        I suppose in a way we basically see everyone’s highlight reel on Instagram. I know myself, I try to keep things more real. I don’t style shots. I just don’t have the time or the patience for that. It’s basically one or two shots taken on my phone of I want to share and then move on. Having said that though, it is more of a highlight reel. I mainly share the better things. I don’t share everything.

        • Debbish
          November 24, 2016

          It occurred to me (today) that I tend to binge on instagram when something’s happening and then I forget about it for a while. I’m not great at ‘styling’ shots either as I’m not very visual!

  • seizetheday20
    November 24, 2016

    It seems we’re thinking along similar lines with our posts today Deb :). I used to compare myself to others much more than I do now. I realise how lucky I am to have what I do have, and that there’s always gonna be someone who has more than me. I can only be the best version of me, that’s it.

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      I shared a meme on my FB page yesterday Lyndall about that idea of the only comparison we should be making is with ourself and who we were / are etc… It’s so very true!

  • sizzlesue15
    November 24, 2016

    I’m loving this group and only discovered the link up recently. For years like many, I compared myself and always came up short. Now as I’m almost 60 I’ve decided that I don’t need to be anything other than me. Thanks for reminding us yet again that we are all special in our own right. Thanks for the link up as well.

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      The link-up’s only pretty recent. Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit started it on a Sunday but a lot of people seem to take weekends off, so she moved it and a few of us joined in!

  • Kate W
    November 24, 2016

    It’s an easy trap to fall into and can’t say I always avoid it HOWEVER as I get older, I do know what I value and I would hope that my friends know me well enough now to also know what I value (and don’t judge me for what I do/don’t have). A ‘friend’ once commented about the fact that if I spent less time volunteering (at the kinder at that time) and more time working, I’d earn more money and could buy stuff “…like a bigger tv.” This conversation will stick in my mind – partly because I was genuinely surprised that this person thought I thought big TVs were important; secondly because they judged me on our very small, old tv; and finally because I thought if I got knocked over by a bus tomorrow, I would hope someone would stand at my funeral and say “Kate did a lot of work for the kinder/ community” as opposed to “Kate had a really big TV.” A silly one-off incident that changed my perspective on so much!

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      Ha yes, very good example. It’s all very interrelated isn’t it? The priorities of some and what will / we think will make us happy!

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    November 24, 2016

    I don’t do it as often as I used to but when I do these days, it seems to mostly hurt less. As I’ve seen more of the world, I’ve learned to realise that nothing is as it seems in others’ lives. That there’s good and bad. We all have a ‘price’ of some sort that we have paid for some of the most precious things in our lives.

    SSG xxx

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      Ah yes, true… ‘until we’ve walked in someone’s shoes’ kind of thing. Sometimes we never know what goes on in others’ lives. They look great, and yet….

  • Bec @ Seeing the Lighter Side
    November 24, 2016

    This is so true. And having more – of whatever it is – won’t make you happy if you don’t change your attitude. There’ll always be someone else to look up to.

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      Ah yes… my dad used to say that in terms of sport to my brother and I. No matter how good you are someone else better will always come along…

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    November 24, 2016

    I used to be into comparison. In fact, if the truth be known, recently (when it comes to owning lovely big clean and well decorated houses) I still am. But I guess I’ve done a hell of a lot of personal development in the last 10 years (since I left my career) and I really am now living in the attitude of gratitude. I look around and see how rich I am in mind, body and soul.

    There is always someone worse off. There is always somebody better off. Then there’s me somewhere in the middle. The gratitude things works. And when I’m still unhappy with my lot, then I complain for a few days then pick up the drill, hammer and a bunch of swatches and set about changing it. I may have drilled a few too many holes in the bathroom tiles as a result … but we’ll work out how to plug them up later … LOL …

    I am loving your posts of late Deb. You’re inviting us on your personal awareness journey. When you reflect and take stock, we all reflect and take stock. It’s like a group therapy session, Very cool.

    #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      Thanks Leanne. These things have all been related for me. I do sometimes look around or think what I ‘could’ have with my old salary and make that comparison but then have to ask myself if I really want the old life that goes with that – and it comes back to my values again… and what makes me happy vs contented.

  • Jo ~ Liffetyle Fifty
    November 24, 2016

    Loved this post. I agree it’s so easy to fall into the comparison trap. I used to do it a lot when we lived as expats in exotic places where often it was all about the job, the house and the school. These days though I’m reigning myself in, and as I get older, like you I’m aware how lucky I am, and how little I really do need. I’ve especially throttled all thoughts of trying to impress people now I’m old and going grey! #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      Ah yes… I think I feel a bit like I’m past my prime / peak now so perhaps it doesn’t matter as much? Maybe?

  • Nikki
    November 24, 2016

    I thankfully don’t compare myself to others all that much, but when it does happen, I am mindful of it and I try to change my mindset. It doesn’t always work though! 🙂

    • Debbish
      November 24, 2016

      True. I think being aware of it is a good first step. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself!

  • Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    November 24, 2016

    I think we all fall into this trap from time to time. It seems to be human nature. I agree with your psychologist, identifying three things to be grateful for each day is a great way to avoid this trap. It’s something I try to do, anyway.

    • Debbish
      November 25, 2016

      I’ve started doing it very purposely (on Instagram) a few times but then forget. Perhaps I just need to do it myself and not think about needing to share them with the world!

  • Denyse Whelan
    November 24, 2016

    I was very interested to read not only your post but everyone’s comments. I think it is a human trait to compare, otherwise how do we see how we are going etc. BUT, of course, when it becomes all-consuming and we fail to see the good in what we have, then it is time to rein it in when we recognise it is getting out of hand.

    I have definitely been part of the negativity trap of comparison over money more than anything. It is ‘wrong’ to be like this but I grew up in a household where having enough money (and some put away) was spoken of because Mum and Dad grew up in the days of the depression.

    I now know that ‘money’ is part of a low self confidence thing for me as I believe I have wasted it and given to others (kids & mortgages!) instead of looking after ourselves first. THAT is a story for another time.

    I have made peace with my comparison bias more these days and am more content that we have our relatively good health and freedom from work and can live comfortably.

    • Debbish
      November 25, 2016

      Ah yes, I had a conversation with a friend about the ‘growing up with money’ thing recently. She did (and then things changed), whereas my family (and most of my friends’ parents) was a typical working class family. My parents gave up A LOT to put my brother and I through university and I can’t even imagine was a strain that was to support us both in Brisbane for those years. Interestingly my parents were very different in what they wanted / appreciated. My dad liked nice things and would liked to have been able to afford them. (Owning a Mercedes was like a lifetime dream of his, whereas my mum takes comfort from ‘things’ but they don’t need to be expensive – she’s not at all materialistic.) Personality-wise…. I’m more like my dad.

  • robjodiefilogomo
    November 25, 2016

    You do wonder, why it’s so easy to get into this thought process? When we have so much to be thankful for and our own journey is just that—our own!!
    I do think that sometimes it is good to compare ourselves though—only for the fact of trying to better ourselves —not because we are not good enough!
    I do think that getting older makes us wiser (hopefully) and I certainly wish I felt this way when I was younger!!
    jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    • Debbish
      November 25, 2016

      Oh yes, I like the idea of comparing ourselves with where WE have come from, but realise I still seem to do the same. I think of my younger years when I was slimmer and seemed to have some potential. Instead I should focus on how much more contented I am now, how much more knowledgable and experienced etc…

  • leannelc
    November 25, 2016

    The comparison trap was a huge issue for me until recently. I have worked really hard over the last few years to extract myself from it – not only me, but my kids, my husband and all the other people I included in my comparisons. It’s so liberating to appreciate what you have and to not be looking over the fence at what others have (and often what you see isn’t the real story anyway – that’s a big lesson I’ve learned along the way!)

    • Debbish
      November 25, 2016

      Oh so true… we only see what we want to see (or what they want us to see) in others’ lives.

  • Janet Camilleri (@middleagedmama1)
    November 25, 2016

    I’ve noticed this tends to afflict the hubster more than me, maybe because he goes out to work in an office and hears how everybody else is doing, while I am quite sheltered in my own little bubble at home LOL. And I wonder if it’s part of the male provider thing too. I’m usually quite content with what we have right now, but hubster is always wishing and dreaming for more (which at times can drive me nuts). Whenever he used to talk about getting a bigger house, I would try to talk him out of it because I knew who would have to clean it, LOL! My biggest comparison trap is other bloggers. Have started unfollowing a few (sshhh don’t tell anyone) unless I feel a real connection with them.

    • Debbish
      November 25, 2016

      The blogging and online world is challenging when it comes to the comparison thing isn’t it?! I mentioned quitting Instagram at one point and I’ve left a few blogging groups cos everyone seemed to be doing so much better than myself that it made me start to wallow a bit!

  • Jess
    November 26, 2016

    I struggle with this a bit, not day to day. Recently for example, I had lunch with girls I went to school with. And they all owned really $$$$ homes. We are renting a unit, have more kids and can’t even imagine getting to the point of buying. It took me a few days to shake how upset I was feeling. I knew intellectually it was ridiculous but still I was jealous. I read some.things about the situation in Syria and it took me right back to reality. And I realised how fortunate I really am!

    • Debbish
      November 26, 2016

      Oh yes and it’s surprising what can make us feel envious. I’ve been the same about material possessions (houses, cars etc) but am often the same re relationships and look at people who seemingly have these perfect lives with partners / husbands and kids… they may be envying you as well!

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