Many of us often spend precious time and energy comparing ourselves to other people. Some use this practice as motivation for becoming better, and are careful enough to prevent it from affecting their worth. However, for most of us, myself included, comparisons tend to make us bitter, not better–bitter toward our self, other people, and even God.
What is it that leads us to compare ourselves with each other? How does this happen? Elder Holland has offered his opinion:
I think one of the reasons is that every day we see allurements of one kind or another that tell us what we have is not enough. Someone or something is forever telling us we need to be more handsome or more wealthy, more applauded or more admired than we see ourselves as being. We are told we haven’t collected enough possessions or gone to enough fun places. We are bombarded with the message that on the world’s scale of things we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.6 Some days it is as if we have been locked in a cubicle of a great and spacious building where the only thing on the TV is a never-ending soap opera entitled Vain Imaginations. (The Other Prodigal, 2002)
Social media could be labeled as one of the locks on the door keeping us in the cubicle of the great and spacious building. While this technology offers many things that are good, the temptation to compare ourselves with others when using it is almost unavoidable. Because of this, social media has the potential to deliver damaging blows to our confidence and view of our self.
When dealing with social media, we often, in Steve Furtick’s words, “compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Arthur C. Brooks, has similarly observed that when we use social media, we usually broadcast the smiling details of our lives but not the hard times at school or work. We portray an incomplete life—sometimes in a self-aggrandizing or fake way. We share this life, and then we consume the “almost exclusively … fake lives of [our] social media ‘friends.’” Brooks affirms, “How could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?” (Arthur C. Brooks, Love People, Not Pleasure)
How can we overcome the tendency to compare ourselves with others? To start, we can spend less time on social media. But this will not be enough. We need to recognize first–what we are doing when we make comparisons, and second–why it is wrong, and the potential consequences.
Comparison denotes pride at its very core. When we compare ourselves to others, what arises is a sense of competition–who’s prettier, who has more friends, who has the more exciting life, who is more talented. As C. S. Lewis has noted: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, 1952) When we compare ourselves, we are choosing to be prideful by competing.
We are hardly fair with ourselves in these competitions either. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has observed when we compare ourselves to others, we are “usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.” (Forget Me Not, 2011) Thus one of the consequences is we have a hard time seeing good qualities in our self, because although they may be good, someone else’s are better. And we often become bitter toward those people.
Comparisons also indicate ungratefulness. When we compare, what we essentially saying to God is that what we have been given in the form of a stewardship–our body, our resources, our opportunities–is not good enough. Instead of making the most of what we have been blessed with and being grateful for it, we are concentrating on what we have not been given. This can lead us to covet what others have, and to even become jealous.
If we choose to remain ungrateful, one of the dangers is we fail to see the many ways God is blessing us. We fail to recognize that He does love us, and is involved in our lives. We can potentially come to feel like Henri J. M. Nouwen, who observed, “In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised, it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1992) This mindset can lead us to become bitter toward God, or even doubt his existence altogether.
I offer two solutions. The first comes from Sister Patricia T. Holland, former member of the Young Women general presidency and wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
“My greatest misery comes when I feel I have to fit what others are doing, or what I think others expect of me. I am most happy when I am comfortable being me and trying to do what my Father in Heaven and I expect me to be.
“For many years I tried to measure the ofttimes quiet, reflective, thoughtful Pat Holland against the robust, bubbly, talkative, and energetic Jeff Holland and others with like qualities. I have learned through several fatiguing failures that you can’t have joy in being bubbly if you are not a bubbly person. It is a contradiction in terms. I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my energy level is lower than Jeff’s, and I don’t talk as much as he does, nor as fast. Giving this up has freed me to embrace and rejoice in my own manner and personality in the measure of my creation” (On Earth as It Is in Heaven, 1989).
We must each say to ourselves, as she did: “I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my _______ is not as good as _______’s.” We are not all meant to be the same, we are each on our own journey and have been blessed with different qualities to make it through. She said that doing so freed her, and allowed her to embrace and rejoice in her own manner and personality. When we can do this, we enable ourselves to choose to encourage and commend others, instead of compete with them.
The second solution is found in Alma chapter 29 of The Book of Mormon. Desiring greater abilities, and a greater stewardship Alma laments:
“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of my heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God. . . and cry repentance unto every people!”
He then states:
“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” (Alma 29: 1,3)
Each of us can look at ourselves, and recognize that we are imperfect and may not have earned what we are coveting or desiring that someone else may have. We can, like Alma, be content with what the Lord has allotted unto us. This contentment springs from an understanding of the wisdom and justice of God.
“For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations. . . all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.” (Alma 29:8)
We must trust that God loves each of us equally; and realize that whatever He has seen fit to give us to work with here in this life, He has done so with our best interests in mind according to that which is just and true. If we can do this, we will choose more often to be grateful for what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t have.
We would do well to remember the words of Elder Holland:
“Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other.”