Comparison is the Thief of Joy

I have a little joke about this quote that goes like this: “Comparison is the thief of joy. Y’Know who wrote that?… Some dude who comes up with stuff way better than me.”

Theodore Roosevelt. That’s who we give credit to for this little gem, this piece of intrinsic truth that robs us blind of feeling good about ourselves, our accomplishments, our status. Thanks for pointing this out for us so simply, Teddy. Or perhaps, this inherent mental mechanism isPride in place to drive us further into success and security.

I would bet our early ancestors had the same dilemma. They were keeping up with the Jones’ too. I imagine caveman 1; huddled around his glowing ember, shivering in his loin cloth, eating a lizard he killed with a rock. Feeling good enough about his situation, looked over and saw caveman 2; carrying a torch and dragging behind him the bear he just bagged with a bow and arrow while wearing its fur. So, nothing wrong with striving for improvement in quality of life.
But like everything, we in modern culture take it too far. Way too far and some don’t know when to quit and simply just don’t care. (That would point to the .01% running this planet we’re all spinning out of control on). It was Will Smith who said; “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like”fight-club

  • Balance and perception. Knowing when you’ve got it good enough for you; to be healthy and happy, comfortable and loved. There’s plenty of work in that for all of us.
  • Owning your own path, not concerning your assumption of others.
    • Consider all those success stories of contrast we know of like;
      • Albert Einstein, dubbed “the dopey one” by the housemaid, didn’t speak until he was four years old and failed his college entry exam at age 17.
      • Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.
      • Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 different publishers,
      • J.K. Rowling was living on welfare,
      • Jim Carrey was homeless

The list goes on and on and on, but you get the idea.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
― Thomas A. Edison

“The trouble with doing something right the first time is nobody appreciates how difficult it was”.  [1]

Clever, but is it ever really true? Maybe once in a while via random chance or divine intelligence, but I think a more common accuracy is that there’s a hell of a back story to all those who finally get it right the first time. A long, rough and windy road to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Something within me recoils a bit when I hear “You’re just gifted.”

Uh, No. I’m not. I worked my ass off to get to this point, and against great odds at times. My wife, a watercolor artist, was criticized for the cost of a painting of hers once. The patron, minimizing her effort said; “Well, how long could it have taken you to actually paint this?” She replied “About seventeen years.”

In my spiritual practice, I aspire to cultivate “sympathetic joy”. The stance of being truly happy for other’s good fortune, regardless of comparison. An antidote for envy. In turn I appreciate this quality in myself (or at least the effort). And try not to compare it to anyone else’s lack of it.

Embrace your own miracle while accepting all those miracles around you. Nice way to go.

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[1] http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/the_trouble_with_doing_something_right_the_first_time_is_nobody_appreciates