Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Two of my most beloved Wake Foresters introduced me to a favorite quote they share in common: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I came to love this quote too. It’s short, easy to remember, and absolutely true.

I share this quote every year because “comparison is the thief of joy” is something I have experienced myself. And I feel certain your students have felt it too.

Our students live in a very compare-and-contrast social media world. Apps like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat allow our students to showcase who they are (or who they want to appear to be). Others view their posts and videos and admire them – or judge them – in a million ways: their looks, their fashion, their apparent wealth, their friend group, their vacations, their dance moves, whatever.

Students play this same compare-and-contrast game with their peers on campushow are people dressing? 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 (and how do I rank in comparison)? who is richer than me? who has more friends? And so on, and so on, and so on.

Not only are our students comparing themselves to their peers on our campus, they are also keeping tabs on their friends from high school, friends at other colleges, etc. Who seems like they are having a better time at college 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.

The bottom line is, the more you 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 might take 10 selfies 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. 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.

If comparison is the thief of joy, perhaps the antidote to that would be 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.

If your Deac is struggling with comparison is the thief of joy, encourage them to add some supportive people or processes to help counter that thinking: talk to a counselor at the University Counseling Center or use their Timely Care option after normal business hours. Work with a Wellbeing Coach on trying to limit their social media use, or use it in more affirming ways. Join our Mindful Wake community and learn to focus on the present moment – because in the end, the present moment is all we ever really have.

And because Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown tonight, to anyone who is celebrating tonight, I wish you Shana Tova! May your family have a good and sweet year.

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

September 23, 2022

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