–photo credit, Jeff Fiet
I have often heard comparison described as a kind of thief that steals joy. Any joy we might have had begins to evaporate when we look at someone else’s life and wonder, “Why isn’t my life like that?” That “grass is greener on the other side” kind of lifestyle lusting – or maybe it’s just wishing we were as artistic, or musical, or as much of a wordsmith as someone else – makes gratitude and joy evaporate so quickly that all that’s left is despair.
You want to be miserable? Practice a little ingratitude for what you’ve got, and start wishing you had more, or something else.
In that way, comparison can certainly act like a thief whisking all the joy away on the sly. But, the more I think about comparison, the more I’ve come to decide that it’s not a thief as much as it is a parasite.
A parasite is an organism that depends on something else for survival. It finds its host, and not only lives off of the host, but also begins to deprive the host of the ability to live a full life. In other words, in order for the parasite to survive, the host has to lose something. In the case of comparison, the comparison parasite survives by depriving a person of contentment, joy, and vitality. And, the more miserable we feel, the more inclined we’ll be to compare ourselves to others, which will make us feel more miserable. The comparison parasite makes us sick, and the more we feed it, the sicker we become. The sicker we are, the more convinced we become that we need the thing that’s making us sick.
We still feel hungry. We still feel empty. We still feel hollow. And, so we keep on feeding ourselves the stuff that’s making us sick in the first place.
After a really good pity party and self-loathing exercise last night – you know the routine (some comparing from afar, moping for a bit, and then eating ice cream right out of the container, can you tell I’m an Enneagram 4?) – I decided that I’m going to starve out the parasite. It’s the only way. It’s the only way I can stop myself from being robbed twice: robbed of enjoying the beauty others share with the world, and robbed of joy and the beauty in my own life.
I’m going to starve out that parasite so that it has no choice but to find somewhere else to live.
I think the best way to do that is to start with gratitude.
Even though comparison “feels” like it is about other people – look how talented she is, look how healthy he looks, look how happy she is – it is more truly a self-centered exercise. It’s about my self, and my own feelings of inadequacy. It’s about what I think I’m lacking. It’s about my own discontent and pain. Gratitude, on the other hand, is entirely other-centered. The more we get into the habit of feeding gratitude, the more we feel ourselves gifted with an overwhelming abundance to share. We become grateful to others who have shared of their abundance with us, and grateful to God for ensuring that everything we need is taken care of – and then some.
So, how do we feed gratitude? Here are a few things I’m going to do as I try to starve out the parasite:
1. Appreciation – It might seem small, but appreciation is the opposite of comparison. Take a moment. Savor what’s around you, no matter how small it is. The smell of your child’s neck, the oranges and pinks as the sun creeps across the horizon, the piping hot sip of coffee first thing in the morning. Every day that you begin with gratitude and appreciation will be more likely to be a gratitude-filled day.
2. Humility and Service – A funny thing happens when we start with gratitude: we begin to see exactly how much we have to give away. We find passions and joys that propel us to act justly and with kindness in the world. The more appreciative we become, the more other-centered we become. Life is no longer about ourselves, it’s about being part of something bigger.
3. Slowing Down – The comparison parasite tends to come for me when I’m exhausted and depleted. The act of slowing myself down, and setting healthy habits and boundaries, can help me not be a good host for the parasite in the first place. Make a meal that takes a long time. Put your feet up and watch a movie. Create something beautiful. Take the time to be grateful.
So, to anyone else out there who finds themselves feeding the comparison parasite far too often, I want you to know that the only way to wholeness is to stop feeding the parasite what it’s after. Feed yourself gratitude, joy, and contentment until that nasty comparison critter finds somewhere else to live.
Let’s slow down and savor the beautiful things around us. Let’s taste and see how good things really are. Let’s build each other up and encourage each other to see what wonderful things we have been given, and how much we have to share with the world.
The grass on the other side really isn’t greener, it’s just been tended to.
Some other things I’ve written on gratitude:
If Gratitude Is a Song – a sermon on Exodus 15