The Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy, especially in our media-obsessed society.

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“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Theodore Roosevelt. In today’s social media-frenzied society, heeding this nugget of wisdom is especially relevant.

            Few people post online about the low points in their lives. I know I prefer to see happy things on the social media stage. So it is easy to adopt the misconception that everyone else is having a glorious time every day. That is simply not the case, which we all know on some level. No person is immune from life’s ups and downs. Some people are much more adept at concealing anything negative in their lives, which sometimes can prove harmful to such people. If someone has significant problems and does not reach out for any help, for instance, the mask of perfectionism can be damaging.

            I am a fan of social media and am active on Facebook, Instagram and twitter. I enjoy seeing photos of my friends who live far away, keeping up with their news and watching their children grow up. I am uplifted by positive quotes and stories I see online. But I take care not to compare my life to those I see online. I realize that the posts represent small windows and by no means the whole picture.

            Sometimes, and frequently around national elections, vitriol can emerge on the social airwaves. I usually am able to pay attention to what interests me and to ignore the rest. And, at long last, I no longer take things personally. We all have our own realities and cannot possibly know what is going on in the lives of others. We cannot fully appreciate what pain is present in the life of another.

            Almost anything can be addictive, including social media. I know people who go on social media fasts, which seem like a good self-care practice. Boundaries around online activity is important as well. It is disheartening to see families in restaurants looking at their individual small screens instead of conversing, for example. And it can feel disrespectful when talking to someone who cannot stop looking at their phone. Taking a cell phone to bed can also be a sign of poor boundaries. Balance in all things is a goal most of us seek, for good reason.

            When I was a teenager, I wanted to be like everyone else. I felt awkward, but wanted to be cool. I wanted the latest fashions. I wanted almost everything my friends had. As an adult, with a greater sense of self, I am better equipped to follow my own sense of style. In fact, I want fewer things in my closet and fewer things in general. My own brand of minimalism is that I seek experiences over material things.

            As I aged, I stopped paying so much attention to what others were doing. I settled into being myself. I have internalized the lesson that what others think of me is not my business. Nor is it within my control. The only person I can control is myself. So I have stopped trying to control others. This realization has freed up a great deal of mental energy and has increased my serenity exponentially.

            As I stopped comparing myself with others, I focused more on my own life. I cultivated joy in new ways. I became more present in the moments, and began to notice more beauty around me, especially of the natural variety. Nature presents a bounty of riches. I notice heart-shaped leaves and stones everywhere now. I am lucky enough to live in a place where I experience four seasons each year and a constantly changing vista. I walk as much as I can to places I want to go. I pay more attention to the view.

            While there are a multitude of other potential thieves of joy in our world, comparison encompasses many of them. Fear can be a part of comparison, especially for those who have a scarcity mindset. But we have the capacity to rise above our fears in various ways to live more serene lives. Knowing how to seek and use support can be a key element to wellness. Allowing a trusted friend to bear witness to one’s fear or pain can greatly alleviate it. Consciously being grateful for what we do have in our lives, as opposed to what we lack, is another helpful tool. If we focus on the positive, the positive is magnified. Taking things for granted, like good health, being able-bodied or having the ability to read, is a disservice to our potential quality of life.

            Each day we have another chance to live a more joyful life. I strive not to waste any of my days. None of us know when the next curveball may be thrown our way, or which day may be our last. So resolve to keep the thieves at bay. Enjoy!

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