Comparing--Friend or Foe of Happiness?

By Maria Fontaine

Comparing ourselves with others! We all do it in one form or another. We want to be better, stronger, more beautiful, more gifted. It's part of human nature to compare and be competitive, and for some it becomes a deeply ingrained habit.

Comparing isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it's necessary to observe and analyze situations or other people in order to learn or gain insight, and it's a positive thing if it helps us count our blessings and get in a positive frame of mind. But when measuring our experiences, problems, or blessings against those of others causes us to be negative, critical, dissatisfied, or self-righteous, it's a very bad thing indeed!

People compare for different reasons and to different degrees. Some people have just one "trouble area" that they struggle with, like something they don't like about themselves. Others are chronic comparers who constantly battle with feeling that others are more talented, better looking, have more privileges, or have something else they want. Whatever the case, Jesus is able to help us overcome this negative mindset that can steal our joy and fulfillment in life.

It's important to understand that the Lord deals differently with each of us. Sometimes what's good for one person isn't good for another, so we can't compare and wonder why some people seem to have it so easy, while others don't. The Lord is fair and just and above all loving. He knows what's best for you, and He has your best interests at heart.

We are each a necessary part of God's magnificent, vast, overall plan. From our perspective, we can't see how we fit in with the overall fabric of life and the balance of the universe, but someday we will see how perfect it all is. Then we'll understand His reasons for making us the way He did, and we'll be thankful.

He made everyone different. There's nobody else in the world just like you or me. We are each His unique creation, He loves us, and He made us the way He did for good reason. He's happy with the way He made us, and we should be happy and thankful, too.

What you look for is what you get

A lot of it has to do with your point of view and what you're looking for--as is brought out in the poem by Ogden Nash (1902-1971):

As you wander through this life,

Whatever be your goal,

Keep your eye upon the donut

And not upon the hole!

If you look only at the "hole" in your life and not the "donut," then look at others and see only the "donut" and not the "hole," of course you're going to be unhappy. It may not be immediately obvious, but everyone else has problems and sorrows too. Nobody has a perfect life. Maybe others have something you want, but maybe you have something they want. Maybe they have something very special, but maybe they had to go through a lot to get it. People often want what someone else has, but they only see the silver lining--the benefits, the advantages; they don't see the cloud--the sacrifices and hard decisions that made others what they are.

We also need to trust that the Lord gives each of us what we need. It may not always be what we want or come in the way we would like it to, but if we truly have faith in God and His love, we will accept what He sends our way. Whether it seems to be a blessing or a burden at the time, each attribute and each experience is a gift from His hand and it all balances out in the end.

Those who learn to be content with who they are and what they have don't struggle as much inwardly as those who haven't yet accepted God's plan for them. Those who constantly compare, examine, observe, and analyze everything to see how they match up usually come to very unhappy (and often wrong) conclusions and lead very unhappy lives. Their negativity about themselves and their circumstances not only makes them miserable to begin with, but it also drives others away, which seems to validate their negative feelings and thus perpetuates the cycle.

Comparing can make quite a mess of things, but there is a way out: Realizing that the Lord doesn't compare you with others and loves you no matter what is a giant step toward relieving problems you may have with envy and comparing.

The more you believe and accept that the Lord loves you just the way He made you, and the more you learn to value Him and His love and the things of His Spirit, the less reason you'll find to compare. The relatively trivial things of life--your looks, your body, your skills and abilities--will fade into the background as the things of true importance take on greater meaning for you.

The "count your blessings" game

The solution is really that simple, but it's often easier said than done, especially if you have a deeply ingrained habit of negatively comparing yourself with others or your situation with theirs. It will probably take prayer and a conscious effort over time to form a new, more positive mindset, but the Lord will help you if you try.

I think one of the best exercises that we can do is to compare ourselves favorably with others who are much worse off than we are, and to count our blessings.

Whenever we are tempted to complain about our problems or the way we are, it's nearly always easy to find others who are worse off than we are. Even with our worst problem, we can usually think of countless others who have even worse problems. No matter how bad off we are, we're always better off than millions of others. This is the way we should always look at it, and not the other way around.

If we will take the time for this little exercise in positive comparing, I dare say that without exception we will come out feeling better. It won't change the way God made you and it may not take care of our immediate problem, but it will cause us to be happy and thankful for all our blessings. As the old hymn goes:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

--Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

It will not only surprise us, but it will also cheer us up!

I played this game myself the other day regarding my health, and of course I couldn't fail to see that I was very greatly blessed and that my problems were nothing compared to many people in the world. Besides all the things the Lord has healed me of, there are innumerable things that He's prevented me from getting in the first place. I realized that I should play this game much more often than I do. I am most richly blessed, and feel so loved and cared for!

I honestly think that whenever we are tempted to complain about anything at all, if we would start this little "Count Your Blessings" game immediately, our "plight" would compare so favorably with that of others or worse situations that we've been in ourselves that we would come out shouting for joy for how good the Lord has been to us.

When we play this game, we should always compare ourselves favorably, never unfavorably. If you look at those who seem to be better off than you, you'll go into the depths of despair. This is usually what we are doing when we complain--looking at others who are better off or thinking of ourselves at another time when we were better off. But if we would think of all those who are worse off than we are, then it would be very difficult for us to complain about our lot, since there are nearly always many, many more who are worse off!

No matter how "bad off" we are, if we have and love the Lord and know that He loves us, we are among the most blessed people on earth! Even our problems we can be sure are for a good purpose, and we can find cause for rejoicing in the knowledge that they will ultimately accomplish some good in our lives. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). "Most gladly I will … boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Take the positive approach. Count your blessings!