Some say, “comparison is the thief of joy."1 And for the most part, I agree. But, I also think there is an exception.

Comparing ourselves with others does little to bring joy. In one moment, we feel just fine. But as soon as we start comparing ourselves to someone else, we can quickly lose whatever contentment we had. There’s always someone who has more or is doing “better.” But we forget that we’re often only seeing the front stage of another person’s life–the carefully manicured image that they want others to see–and not the backstage. We don’t know what’s going on inside or behind closed doors.

And even if they are doing better in some specific way, we forget that we all come from different places and have unique skills and experiences. There are so many things about our lives that we can’t control–our genetics, our family, where we grew up, the opportunities that came across our path. But we let other people’s situations affect how we view our own, feeling discouraged about what we don’t have or haven’t accomplished, even though the circumstances may be radically different or beyond our control.

And so, yes, often comparison can, and does, steal joy and contentment. But now the exception.

Comparing ourselves to others is fraught with danger. But comparing ourselves with ourselves is a different matter. Recognizing the ways we’ve grown and the progress we’ve made over the years can fuel joy, not quench it. But this recognition comes by comparing who we are today with who we once were. Sure, we still may have a ways to go and plenty of work to do. But if we’re not where we once were, if we’ve grown at all over the years, we have a reason to be grateful. But we may never appreciate this if we don’t take time to compare.

  1. See for a history of who has been attributed with this quote. ↩︎