The Comparison Trap: How It Hurts Us
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This Thanksgiving, Contentment Starts With Fighting The Real Enemy: Comparison

"Comparison is the thief of joy." - Theodore Roosevelt

This Thanksgiving, Contentment Starts With Fighting The Real Enemy: Comparison

During Thanksgiving, we lean into the act of gratitude, thankful for our needs being met. Gratitude is more than something we give to God and others. It's a formative practice, meaning that when we give thanks regularly, it actually shapes us into happier, more healthy beings.

UC Berkeley conducted a study among students receiving mental health counseling which revealed that the weekly practice of writing gratitude letters greatly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety over students in counseling who did not. The study acknowledged that regularly showing gratitude frees us from toxic emotions, and though the benefits take time to accrue, gratitude has long-lasting effects on the brain.

Giving thanks reminds us of the good in our lives and inspires contentment for what we already have. Being content is more than just being grateful, it's believing that our needs are met, and finding satisfaction in even the imperfect parts of our lives. Simply put, contentment is being peacefully satisfied with what we have, even in pain.

This is contrary to our society's culture of scarcity. Our culture glorifies the push for more money, more success, more experiences, more degrees earned, more trendy clothing, more friends, more food and drink, more likes, more followers. The scarcity messages play on loop, morning, day, and night.

Instagram will show you someone who looks happier than you or has something that you don't. Pinterest tells you what you need to have the perfect wedding. Twitter tells you that you're never doing enough in the fight against injustice. Snapchat reminds you that someone else is having more fun than you right now. Facebook tells you about the biggest successes of your friends. Our natural reaction to all of this is to look at it next to our own lives.

I wish I graduated college.

His job is so much better than mine.

If only I were in love like them.

I wish I could travel as much as she does.

We now have constant access to other people's lives, even if it's only the 'highlight reel'. If you're not getting attention online, it's easy to feel like you are forgotten by the world.

When we're not comparing our lives with that of friends, classmates, coworkers, and celebrities, we compare our current selves with past versions of ourselves.

I used to look better 5 years ago.

I was so much happier back then.

I wish life was as simple as it used to be.

I was better before the divorce/pregnancy/job loss/etc.

If you really want the benefits of practicing gratitude this season, start by redesigning spaces where you tend to compare your life, qualities, or possessions to others'.

For me, the necessary change included deleting nearly all forms of social media and making more time for creativity. Depending on who you are and your situation, this could be covering the mirror on your wall to avoid scrutinizing perceived flaws about your body. Or you could take a pledge to not shop or go to the mall for a month or two. Or cancel that magazine subscription, or change the shows you watch on TV.

Many of us struggle with comparing ourselves to certain friends. Consider spending less time with individuals who you often compare yourself with.

If we don't rip the door off the hinges of the comparison trap, we won't be able to experience the deep and lasting benefits of gratitude.

Stopping comparison is a collective practice. Comparison happens in our heads, but it can come out slyly in conversation. Talk with your friends about the devastating effects of comparison and create a plan for helping each other live freely, unencumbered by comparison and discontentment.

It's possible to fully enjoy the benefits of gratitude and contentment, but we must be brave enough to recognize where we stumble into comparison and make choices that set us free.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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