I was so excited to get my first job in high school. A lot of the people I went to school with had jobs long before me. Finally getting one made me feel like I was part of a special club.
Like many people who get their very first pay check I was bummed to see how much of what I “made” went to taxes. I asked a trusted adult about this and they assured me I wasn’t being ripped off (at least any more than anyone else).
We started to talk about work and pay. I asked him how much money he made. He said something that still sticks with me:
“I never tell people how much I make.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because it either makes them feel worse about how much they make or it makes me feel worse about how much I make. Besides, it’s nobody’s business.”
Hearing my friend’s insights made sense to me. Without knowing it he taught me something very important about comparison:
Comparison either makes us feel too good about ourselves or not good enough.
Have you ever found yourself playing the comparison game?
Maybe a co-worker got a raise or promotion at work that you had hoped would be coming your way. Your neighbor buys a new, bigger car, TV, or a boat. Or a friend at school aced their midterm while you struggled to get a passing grade. Or you discover some friends on Facebook had a get together and didn’t invite you.
Without meaning to you start growing resentful. You find yourself beginning to distance yourself from them. As time goes on you begin to make some passive-aggressive remarks at their expense. You pass them off as jokes, hoping they won’t get their feelings hurt (or maybe you do). Soon you find yourself at odds with each other, with the other person wondering what went wrong.
The other side of the comparison trap is just as bad.
You notice your friend from work posted some pictures from their family vacation. They went tent camping while you went on an Alaskan Cruise. You must make more money (or are at least better at managing it). You start to feel a bit smug.
Or you go over to a friend’s house and notice they’re TV isn’t half as big as yours. Not only that, but there house is a smaller and more cluttered. You start talking about work and quickly discover that things are going bad at the company he works at. Not only does he hate his job, but he’s worried that the lay-offs that are coming are heading his way. You and your wife discuss it on the way home. You say how thankful you are that you don’t hate your job as much as he does and that your company is doing much better. You disguise it as gratitude for what you have, but deep down you know you’re being condescending.
Author and speaker Jon Acuff makes this observation about comparison:
“Comparison leads to arrogance or shame, but never happiness.”
That’s how comparison works. It tricks us into thinking that putting ourselves on the scale with someone else will make us feel better about ourselves, but it never does for very long.
Want to be happier?
Compare less. Help more.
You’ll be glad you did.