Don’t Let Comparison Steal Your Joy

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Comparison can steal your joy. Empower yourself to be happy with your life, without comparing it to others.

About a week ago, I was getting ready to take my kids to an Easter Egg hunt at a local church. We were pretty excited about it. On his way out the door for the day, my husband told me that his friend told him about one at a neighborhood park. It was pretty much caddy corner from the church, and wouldn’t require us to go, well, into a church.

As I was driving (because walking with young children after a sugar high didn’t sound too safe) to the event, I went back and forth in my head over which one to go to. I knew the one at the church was happening. The one at the park was third-hand information at best. So to the church we went.

It was amazing. Before the hunt, the Easter bunny graced us with her/his presence. My kiddos ran up for hugs, elated to meet the holiday icon. We went outside and participated in the mad dash for plastic eggs filled with candy, stickers and coins. When we came back in, we got balloon animals from clowns, ate cookies and juice and beat up a pinata. We got the sad news that the church was closing, and they invited us to take home books and puzzles since they wouldn’t be needing them in their nursery anymore.

As we got in the car to leave, I heard this: “Mommy, I miss it.”

We had such a fun day, which means a lot because it’s really difficult for us to get everyone out of the house.

On the way home, we drove by the park. Sure enough, there was a neighborhood party. There were balloons lining the fences, kids running around the playground and adults chatting over some free food. For a brief instant, my mind went here: “Oh, no. I made the wrong choice. They’re still having fun over there!”

I stopped the thought process there. Admittedly a rare occurrence for me. We had so much fun, and if I hadn’t happened to drive by the park, I never would have known any better.

If I hadn’t had the input to compare, my joy wouldn’t have been threatened, not even for a millisecond.

When Education Comparison Threatened to Steal My Joy

Easter egg hunts aren’t the only example in my life of comparison threatening to steal my joy. I went to college traditionally for one semester. At the end of the semester, I got the tuition bill. Through a complex series of events, the entire thing fell on me. In full. With zero financial aid.

I wasn’t willing to take out tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to fund my education. So I left. I paid off the bill with lightning speed. But when I came out on the other side I didn’t have a whole lot of earning power.

I eventually went back to school for free through grants and scholarships. But I’ve often tossed and turned over whether I made the right decision all those years ago. By walking away from traditional schooling, I stagnated my education, which ultimately led to living in poverty. High school degrees don’t garner much in the form of pay.

Had I made the right decision? All my peers were so much further along on their career tracks. They had income that could justify financial institutions lending them money for mortgages. Maybe student loans weren’t so bad. I thought I had made a huge mistake, even after coming out the other side.

It took a while, but eventually I came to peace with my decisions. If we want to play the comparison game, even though my peers had higher salaries, my net worth was so much higher than theirs because they were so deep in debt. Also, I couldn’t have known it when I “dropped out,” but I was set to graduate at the height of the Great Recession. Even with my practical career choice, the beginning of my career would have been rocky at best. I still would have been poor income-wise for a while, but I would have had so much debt to pay off on top of it.

I did it without debt, and even though it took me longer, that’s something to be proud of. Not something to denigrate myself over.

Social Media can Steal Your Joy

I was fortunate. All I had to do was not drive by the park if I wanted to alleviate myself of comparison. But social media can threaten to steal your joy each and every day. We’re all subject to viewing the best parts of each others’ lives on a daily basis, even if we didn’t want to see it. FOMO, YOLO, and ultimately comparison can lead us to question our financial and life journeys.

How do they have so much money to travel so often, and to such beautiful places?

It must be nice to have a big suburban house with kids.

Why do I not have those things?

Maybe I should spend more on those things.

If I want to have a life as good as theirs….

It’s a destructive thought process. But it’s one that we often engage in even subconsciously. For me, operating in the PF Blogosphere is both motivating and unhealthy. Instead of buying stuff, I’ll sometimes get caught up in the fact that I’m not saving enough. I’m not frugal enough. I need to sacrifice more so I can reach the same milestones as them, and just as quickly. Or somehow I’ll be a failure.

How to Stop it From Stealing Your Joy

Whether comparison leads to overspending or limiting your spending to a point where it limits your life experiences, it is a thief.

I’d advise getting the heck off social media, but I know we all live in the real world. Granted, it’s a world we’re actively creating and voting for by our participation in it, but I’m not crazy enough to think that if I tell you to get off Facebook you’ll actually do it. Or that I am capable of running my business without Pinterest.

Instead, it helps to work on deconstructing those mental structures. For me, when I realized that if I hadn’t driven by the park, I’d be nothing but blissful, I was able to latch onto that bliss as if the driveby hadn’t happened. Not because others weren’t having fun, but because we had, too, just in a different way. And there was nothing better or worse about it.

I was finally able to get over my insecurities about my career trajectory when I accepted the fact that my net worth was higher, despite my struggles, and that a degree during that period of history wouldn’t necessarily have helped me in the short-term.

If you want a super healthy way to switch your mental gears, I recommend this podcast episode by Gary from Pathway to Happiness. Heads up: it does talk about Jesus, but he’s used as a cultural example of perfection rather than a religious echelon.

Has comparison threatened to steal your joy lately? How do you deal?

20 thoughts on “Don’t Let Comparison Steal Your Joy

  1. Miss Thrifty

    The social media comparison is a huge issue for me. I feel like I do a good job of managing the money I have and get really down when I see my peers flaunting expensive vacations or achieving goals faster than me (buying a home, for example).

    When it gets really bad, I delete my Instagram and Facebook apps from my phone (and deactivate my Facebook from my computer) to avoid the temptation. Disengaging may not be the perfect answer, but it’s the only solution I’ve found so far to deal.

    I’ve thought about deleting those people so I won’t see their feed but some of them are close family, friends, and coworkers and I think that could create more drama than I would like.

    I wish there was a massive social media movement or platform to promote minimalism or frugality. Like, “Hey, here’s an Instagram of the fourth turkey sandwich I’ve eaten for lunch this week brown-bagging.”

    1. Femme Frugality

      It is so hard. Especially because it’s not like you dislike those people, or that they’re doing it to hurt the world. But it does have negative effects.

      And please tweet out those brown bag lunches now that you’ve joined the #frugalitychallenge. You’ve found a frugal tribe!

    1. Femme Frugality

      Exactly. It’s funny… I went to a conference a few years ago where a powerful CEO and mother spoke. She built her business in the 70s, so you can imagine the sexism she fought. But she told us today we have it so much harder than she did precisely because of social media. She was able to focus on her own business and family, whereas we feel like everything is a competition or we could be doing better because we get caught up in those feeds.

  2. Frank Facts

    “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is probably the #1 reason so many people save so little. It’s so easy to see friends on Facebook and elsewhere buying new homes, going to Jamaica, etc. What we don’t see are their credit card and other debts for those purchases. It’s too easy to assume that other people HAVE the money, when in fact they don’t. Don’t let other people’s purchases drive yours!!

  3. Esther

    Social media can really steal people’s joy. It really use to steal my joy until I heard someone say, people only put their best forward on social media. Since then I have learnt to see social media photos as what peope aspire to be daily but not their everyday reality.

  4. Stephanie Doyle

    I’ve actually written about this a few times myself.

    People’s lives look better because they’re out there living it, not concerning themselves with what everyone else is doing. When we’re happy and busy cultivating our own lives, we don’t have time to concentrate on what our neighbors are doing. We’re all on our own journey!

  5. middle class

    I am not actively on social media except for Pinterest, blogging and some twitter. I just don’t want facebook and instagram to suck up my time! I think I tend to compare myself to others in terms of career. I don’t feel like I climbed high enough. However, I have come to terms with the fact that I hate putting my head on the chopping block and hate office politics. Still, it’s hard because I have seen less capable people climb higher up the ladder.

    1. Femme Frugality

      Ugh. That is frustrating. I have the same tendencies… Ultra professional, but sometimes those politics make it so that the quality of your work doesn’t matter. Super frustrating, really.

  6. Money Beagle

    You have to be really careful with social media as people are generally only going to post the positive, and you really have no idea about how much truth this represents in their life. I’ve seen instances where a couple’s life looks picture perfect on Facebook, and then you find out they’re getting divorced, and you’re like “Huh?” but it’s because social media allows you to show and hide at your choosing.

  7. Vickie @ Vickie's kitchen and Garden

    I think o used to comparepre more when I was younger we didn’t have social media then we had the phone though I remember my mom telling me I shouldn’t talk so much on it!
    I had to laugh recently someone said on Facebook they had major construction going on outside . we happen to drive by their home and it was a very small porch. Maybe it was major to her but words can be deceiving.

  8. Jana @ Jana Says

    I love this post 23847 million times.

    The point you make about more information leading to comparison and feeling inferior is so true and accurate. It’s hard to feel comfortable or secure in your decisions when you know that there’s something else. The whole “grass is greener” nonsense. The thing is, I’m learning to be comfortable in whatever I choose. Sure, something out there might be better but at the time, the decision I made was the best one for me.

    The social media part, though. “It’s both damaging and motivating” THIS. EXACTLY. I feel the same way and I have to temper how I use social media to prevent it from being toxic.

  9. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    Great point and I was recently thinking the same exact thing. Being envious and jealous is just human nature at times. It’s tough when you see other people’s lives being so exciting and luxurious in comparison. Social media is a good tool to keep in touch but there are many downsides too. It’s tough but I try to be grateful for the things I have rather than comparing myself with others. I also try to avoid scrolling through people’s FB posts too =)

  10. Prudence Debtfree

    This is a hugely significant topic. I sometimes think, “Boy, I’m glad I’m over comparing myself to others,” but then I find myself doing it again. The good thing is that when I do so now, I’m able to catch it and put an end to it. I’m glad that you were able to appreciate the time you had at the church, and that you were able to overcome the “If only . . .” episode you experienced after seeing the fun at the park. Ideally, we can love our lives and see that others love theirs – without the self-doubt that comes with comparison.


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