I recently had a very revealing conversation while driving home with a good friend. We will both be 30 years old next year, and for whatever reason, this number seems to drive us crazy. It’s a time in which many people (especially women) are taking stock and thinking about all those boxes that they have or haven’t checked yet—as though we were given a 100-foot-long checklist when we were born of exactly what we’re supposed to accomplish by the end. And unfortunately, the two measuring instruments that we most often tend to utilize are what we feel we are supposed to have accomplished already and what our friends have managed to do by this point.
And honestly, who can blame us for falling into this trap? From a young age, almost our whole world is set up to compare our performance to everyone and everything around us. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure if there has ever been a season when I haven’t been concerned with where I am compared to the rest of my peers. High school classes, test scores, college acceptance, graduation rankings, job offers, relationship status…the list just goes on and on.
In a western world acculturated by the next newest technology, hottest vehicle, highest job title, biggest house, most successful spouse, and most angelic children, it’s difficult to escape this comparison game. I call this kind of thinking a trap because it truly is pointless. Not only does it breed terrible feelings of inadequacy, but also it engages us to play in a rigged arena, living life as though we’re in some ultimate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors trying to outdo the people next to us. If we were all given the same opportunities in life, starting from the same place with the same package, then maybe it would be fine for us to look around and judge our status based on where everyone else is, if we were all clones. But we don’t live in that world! We are born with different parents, in different households with different income levels and different talents, temperaments and attitudes in each and every one of us. So comparing ourselves to one another is about as sensible as comparing a ferret to a fish.
We spend a whole lot of time thinking that we could have more, that we should have more, and when we get it, we wonder why we don’t feel any happier, any more content. But what if we spent more time on the opposite? What if we trained ourselves to recognize that we could just as easily have a lot less? That we could be much worse off? Honestly, at any given point in time while we are thinking about how we wish we could find that perfect job/spouse/house/child, someone else is wishing they had your package.
By the culmination of our conversation, my friend and I had determined that gratitude really is the beginning of contentment. Moreover, it is the antidote to comparison, envy and inadequacy.
Gratitude breeds contentment, contentment breeds happiness, and happiness breeds health and wholeheartedness. This is important to know because, as we discussed above, it works the other way too. Comparison leads to envy and discontentment, which leads to a constant feeling of lacking, which breeds a feeling of inadequacy and overall ugliness.
But I’ve been learning that discontentment, comparison and envy are not the only things that can be squelched by practicing gratitude. The more I process this application of gratitude the more apparent it becomes that gratitude covers a multitude of garbage.
I struggle with anxiety; it’s just a part of my truth. My anxiety is pervasive. There’s not an area of my life that it doesn’t touch. My anxiety makes me a careful, cautious and concerned person, but it can also make me into a negative person if not checked. All that worry produces a mindset of constantly coming up short, feeling like I’m not enough or we don’t have enough to deal with a specific circumstance, causing me to focus on worse-case scenarios a majority of the time. But I’ve noticed a significant advantage to refocusing my mindset on what I do have that’s going right in any given situation, and not to sound all Pollyanna, but this practice has definitely helped to calm my mind and make me into a more positive person.
I’m not saying that anxiety can be simply done away with completely by thinking happy thoughts – mental health is a real struggle and should be approached like any other illness – with serious professional attention. I am saying that practicing cognitive awareness and positive reframing can be one of the tools in our arsenal to help combat the storm of worry and negativity.
We need to stop thinking of life as a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and more like a game of Solitaire. We’re not all in a game together playing to one-up each other, we’re all playing different games at the same time, and the only people we should be competing against are ourselves. The only time we should be looking in on someone else’s game is to support each other in the process. Are we doing the best we can with what we’ve been given? Are we giving our all to make the best decisions about what’s right for our own lives? Are we acting with integrity, humility, generosity and thankfulness? To paraphrase a gem of wisdom that was recently shared with me, the only time we should be evaluating what our neighbor has is to make sure they have enough, and the only time we should be evaluating what we have is to give thanks.
I know that I’m not presenting any new wisdom with this post. My only aim is sharing what I’m going through presently. This week I made a new attempt at focusing my mind on gratitude above all else, and I came up with a saying; it’s silly, and it’s simple, but it’s been working for me:
Don’t complain and don’t compare
Just be thankful for what’ s there
Don’t judge or envy how others are livin’
Just be grateful for what you’re given.
I have to apologize – this thought was more full-fledged than fleeting. Sorry, it is what it is. Nonetheless, I hope you found it useful. Happy Friday!