woman holding mirror shard in front of eyes with another woman's eyes reflected as comparison

Comparison: The Death of Joy?

Ila Gartin

We’ve all done it. As a matter of fact, we all DO it. Comparison. Yes, the death of joy. But what does that really mean? We’ve heard that phrase before, but have you ever really thought about the true meaning of it? The thing is, it’s impossible to experience genuine, sincere, and simple joy when you’re comparing yourself and your life to…anyone or anything. There are a few different ways this is done, so let’s get into exploring this topic.

Probably the most common comparison – so common that we may not even realize we’re doing it – is comparing ourselves or aspects of our own lives to others. Women seem to be more susceptible to this than men, although I could be wrong. We see someone else or we see a picture on social media and we immediately compare our looks, bodies, relationships, families, marriages, houses, vehicles, reactions, careers, LIVES to theirs. Not only that, but we start to make up a story about it. Because the picture looked perfect online or because her outfit was on point and her partner was smiling and her kids were behaved when we saw her out and about that ONE time, we assume her life is that way ALL the time. Then we start the self-shaming. Right?

We start to judge ourselves and our past choices and our current lives and our aspirations against her life – or at least the one we made up without even realizing it. Just because we see a moment in time when someone else’s life looks perfect doesn’t mean that it always is. To go even further…does it matter? Not to sound harsh, but why do we need to spend our time being jealous or having negative emotions towards someone else or even worse – ourselves? 

Can we realize that that woman has struggles, too? Internally, externally, relationally, professionally, etc, SHE is also struggling! Her struggles may be different than yours, but they’re just as real. They’re no less and no more important than yours. They are REAL for her and they affect her confidence, her swagger, and her self-love. Just like yours affect you. Instead of making up a story in your head about what her circumstances are, instead of thinking about how perfect her life PROBABLY is, instead of beating yourself up because your life doesn’t seem nearly as good as hers (when you actually have no idea what her life is like!), just. be. kind. 

To yourself. And to her.

You’d be surprised what struggles and traumas some women (who are seemingly perfect and spark our envy) have been through. When we can realize that she has insecurities and self-doubt and feelings-of-not-being-good-enough, too, we can start to be more understanding of her. We can start to allow ourselves to be HAPPY for her because she gets to experience this moment when everything seems to be going right for her. We can stop judging ourselves against that moment and start to experience that JOY again – remember? The joy we thought died with the comparison? It’s back. We’ve found it again. Because we’re no longer comparing – we’re SUPPORTING. And THAT brings pure, authentic joy.

Now that we realize comparing ourselves to others really makes no sense because we don’t know the whole story, let’s move on to another type of comparison. Comparing ourselves with our past selves. There are a couple of subtypes of this, one negative and one pseudo-positive.

Often, when we think back to ourselves in the past, we fuel negative thoughts of ourselves in the present. We wish we were the person from that time, or that we at least looked like her! This type of comparison is really just self-judgment and self-shaming. We use that old view of ourselves as a mirror where we can stare and point out all of our current flaws.

When we see our past selves as stronger, thinner, healthier, smarter, more beautiful, BETTER than our current selves, we are causing a real-time paralysis. We’re busy shaming ourselves and creating an inability to take action and make a change to spark progress. Again, it is necessary to be thankful for where you were, but be realistic about where you are. Because this, NOW, is your new starting point. Start where you are. Make one change to bring yourself closer to crushing your CURRENT goals.

Unfortunately, it works both ways. We can use that mirror to point out all the flaws in our former selves, as well. We can be unforgiving of ourselves for happenings, decisions, or “mistakes” we made in the past. Maybe we feel shame regarding our past – you know – that thing that happened and you don’t want ANYONE to know about it. That’s shame. And it’s KILLING your joy.

Maybe in the past your former self was “young and dumb,” maybe she made a few bad decisions, maybe she stayed in a relationship she needed to end long ago, maybe she didn’t take care of her body, maybe she didn’t contribute enough to her 401k, or maybe she was resentful of her mother. MAYBE someone else did something unspeakable to her, but she, at least partially, blames herself for it. By judging your past decisions and circumstances, you’re still degrading yourself. And you’re stealing your OWN joy! 

In this case, forgiveness is a must. True realization that you no longer need to feel ashamed or guilty, and authentic forgiveness of yourself is needed. Forgiveness doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Forgiveness is letting go of the expectation that it can ever be changed. We cannot change the past. But we can release our current selves from it’s grip. And feel the warmth of joy fill our hearts again. 

The last type of comparison is arguably the WORST. Do you have an ideal picture of yourself? Is there a perfect version of you that you’re constantly striving to be? You do realize that perfection isn’t real…right? There is no such thing as perfection, which means it is an unattainable concept. None of us will ever have the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect relationship, the perfect job, or the perfect life. It. Doesn’t. Exist. That’s fantasy shit.

Let’s say you do achieve a perfect aspect of your life. You get those glutes of steel you’ve always wanted. You get your dream house. You have the newest car off the lot. You land your ideal job. These are fleeting moments of perfection. Perfection is ever-changing and will never be reached for more than an instant. Those glutes change with the next squat you do or the next rice krispies treat you eat. Your dream house isn’t the same when you see the next architectural trend or as it gets older. As soon as you drive your car off the lot, there is a newer, better, faster version. The ideal job changes with each personnel, project, or responsibility adjustment. 

You see? Perfection is a sham – a fraudulent concept that is nonexistent at worst, fleeting and unstable at best. When we are constantly striving for and comparing our current selves with some version of perfection that we dreamed up in our heads, it only leads to misery. We can always strive to be or get something we consider to be “better.” Just know that you are always a work in progress – a dynamic and evolving being destined to learn, progress, and transform DURING this process called life. Don’t compare this journey to a non-existent utopian destination.

Spend some time over the next week paying attention to your self-talk. Are you comparing yourself to others? Or to your past self? Are you striving for perfection? If so, become aware of how often you’re comparing and try to be more supportive of yourself and others to bring joy alive again.

  • Have you experienced a death of joy due to comparison?
  • Who do you tend to compare yourself with most?
  • What do you plan to change about your self-talk to protect yourself against the death of joy?
  • How do you think you would show up differently to those you love if you stopped making comparisons?
  • How would you show up differently for yourself if you stopped making comparisons?
  • What does joy mean to you? Have you given it a chance to grow again?

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