Comparison is the thief of joy

Today I am trying to go a little COVID light, just to give us all a breather. It is hard to be pandemic focused all the time. Two quick COVID hits: 1) there is a new September 15 Campus Health Update on the dashboard, and 2) yesterday I shared some of the College GameDay photos, but our intrepid Ken Bennett has more of them up in a great photostory.

Also want to acknowledge and amplify Latinx Heritage Month. The theme this year is “La Solidaridad”, which “means unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest.” Please encourage your Deacs to sample some of these offerings. Learning about different cultures can be amazing and fun, and it can broaden our understanding of the experiences of others, which is essential when living in community.

Normally over the summer, before school begins, I do a special Daily Deac about one of my favorite quotes: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That got lost somewhere in COVIDland, but I want to bring it back to the forefront of the Daily Deacdom. And let me repeat it for emphasis, big and bold so no one can miss it:

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I repeat it because it has been my personal experience. But also because it is true, I suspect, for your students.

Our ’24s might feel it especially keenly. COVID college is not the experience they had imagined. They don’t come here with a cadre of ready-made friends and cliques from the past 12 years of school, and must start afresh to find their place at Wake. Students (of all years) are constantly looking to their peers on campus – how do they dress? how do they act? what do they do? what don’t they do that I shouldn’t either? how smart are they – is it way smarter than me? are their contributions in class better than mine? are their grades better than mine? how physically attractive are they? who is richer than me? who has more friends? You get the idea.

Not only are our students comparing themselves to their peers on this campus, by the virtues of Snapchat and Instagram [and the various and sundry social media platforms this old grey lady doesn’t yet use], they can compare themselves to their friends from high school, friends at other colleges, etc. Who seems like they are having a better time at school than me? Whose lives seem easier, happier? Why does this person have tons of friends and I don’t?  Why is X school letting people have more fun? And on and on it goes.

But this year it is even worse, perhaps, because not every college is handling COVID restrictions in the same way Wake is. So peers might be posting pictures of being unmasked, or being at parties, or doing things that are not the way Wake does them, and it might look better. (Some of those schools without those restrictions, by the way, may shortly have a whole new set of problems).

The bottom line is, the more you try to compare your life with everyone else’s, the more likely it is that you will feel bad by comparison. You are robbing yourself of joy.

The truth is that no one’s life is perfect, no matter how perfect it appears to be. And no one’s college is perfect, no matter how fun that Instagram picture makes it seem. We put on our game face and hold ourselves together when we go out our front door to meet the world each morning. And we take 10 pictures before we find the one where we don’t see a double chin and only post that one to social media (or maybe that is just me?) 🙂

The reality is we all have struggles. We all have insecurities. We all have problems. And even people who seem to have everything – beauty, brains, wealth, loving families, good health, a great job, their school looks like 100% of fun 100% of the time – they have problems too.

So how do you break the Comparison is the thief of joy cycle? Consider talking to a counselor in the University Counseling Center to work through some of the anxiety of constant comparison and to boost self-esteem; take a long walk at least once a week (more if possible) to clear the mind and focus on the physical world of nature; think about our Mindful Wake offerings, because mindfulness and meditation can be wonderful ways to appreciate the present moment and not stew on the past, fret about the future, or worry that someone else has it better than you.

If comparison is the thief of joy, perhaps the antidotes to that are looking at people, places, and things with realistic eyes, acknowledging we all have problems and flaws. It may mean looking at our lived experience gently and with love, but letting go of an unrealistic ideal of perfection. And I would certainly advise looking at other peoples’ social media with a healthy degree of skepticism, because they are giving you a highly curated view of one moment in a life that – just like ours – is not perfect.

One final thought for the day: I am sending my thoughts to all our Deacs on the Gulf Coast who are dealing with Hurricane Sally just churning out there and bringing so much rain. Stay safe, y’all!

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

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