That’s a quote from Mark Twain and do I ever know this well. We are taught from a very young age what is “better” about other people and how they compare to us. There are the “cool” kids in school, there are the “lucky ones” whom everyone else wants to emulate. There are the “hot” toys and gadgets and clothes of the season that everyone has to have or we clearly missing out. We compare ourselves with others in our looks, the amount in our paychecks, the size and location of our homes, and in what we do with our time every day. I would venture to say that most of the time when we make comparisons to others, we come up short, no matter how happy we are or what choices we have made for ourselves. I can tell you from experience, that is an unhappy way to live.
Here’s the really interesting thing about comparing yourself to other people and their lives and what is deemed “acceptable” or “desirable” by the current society: The standards of greatness and beauty and power and accomplishment CHANGE. It’s like moving the goalposts. There is some standard that people choose to measure themselves by according to the time and place we’re living in, but those can vary drastically, which can give those of us who are struggling with this a brick-to-the-head level of perspective.
For example, I saw Bo Derek speak a few years ago about her age and her looks. (For those of you who don’t know who she is, in the late 1970s and early 1980s she was considered to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet. The ideal that all women should strive to look like.) She was well aware the effect her presence had on women in those days, but was also very cognizant of her luck at becoming so famous and worshipped for her looks. She said "I realize that I have the right body type and the right bones for now; a couple hundred years ago I would have been the scullery maid - the scrawny, skinny girl.” Isn’t that fascinating? She would have been undesirable back then because the standard of attractiveness was based on a woman’s perceived ability to bear children, which would have meant a curvier figure.
Here’s something that also occurred to me recently: For the past few decades what has been presented through us in the media has been if you’re successful then you’re rich, and if you’re rich then you own a big house (or several) and you fill up those big houses with stuff. The more stuff you have, the better and more successful you are. Well now there is the whole Marie Kondo “Tidying Up” craze (I absolutely love her by the way) and people with a lot of stuff are now judged negatively for having too much! On the one hand, everyone wishes they were Beyonce and Jay-Z with their palatial homes filled with expensive things, but on the other hand, everyday people are being shamed for trying to emulate that level of wealth.
I won’t even get into different beauty and status standards in other countries, or how they can even vary from state to state, town to town, and street to street. It’s really absurd how everyone judges everyone else because of what they were taught to believe at some point or what “society” deems best. We can’t ever truly be happy if we fall into the comparison trap. So how do we break free? By remembering that what someone else is doing or what they look like doesn’t matter. But you do. Just the way you are.