Comparison is the Thief of Joy

This summer, my niece and nephew spent a few weeks with me. They are ten and eleven years old and go non-stop from the time they get up until they go to bed at night.

In between, everything is a contest. We have a pool, and the kids found a way to compete at everything they did in the pool. There was a contest for who could hold their breath the longest; dive the straightest; make the biggest splash; the smallest splash; best handstand. There was even a contest to determine who had the most extended battery life on their phones. My children were spread out a little further in age, so the competition thing was new to me.

I talked to a few friends and colleagues and found out that the kids are entirely normal. However, their non-stop abilities comparing was a little draining for me. They were rarely content with their performance. It was always about how the other one performed or didn’t perform in an activity.

These attributes seem to follow us into adulthood. We have all heard the terms “The pasture is greener on the other side,” or “Keeping up with the Joneses.” We are always looking for a better deal or comparing ourselves to someone else.

Several weeks ago, I got serious about my fitness. I did this for the apparent reason of feeling and looking better. I also wanted to be able to share my wife’s type of lifestyle. She is an elite cyclist. When you live with somebody who is a dedicated athlete, they eat differently, sleep different, and talk differently than your average Joe. I was the average Joe, and I wanted to be able to have conversations, workout, and eat with my wife.

One month into my new lifestyle change and goal to complete an Ironman challenge, my coach told it was time for an FTP (functional threshold power) test on the bike. The goal was to go as hard as I could for twenty minutes and try to finish stronger than when I started. I charted my course and energetically took off, managing to finish stronger than when I started. In the end, I completed 6.5 miles, with an average nineteen miles per hour pace.

In my notes for my coach, I told her that I felt pretty good but could do better. I gave myself an 8. She responded by saying I did great and gave me a 10. She reminded me that I had only been training for a month. It was good to have this reminder because I had not recognized my own performance. Instead, I was comparing it to my wife’s. Earlier that week she had ridden ninety-six miles at a twenty miles per hour pace. Yes, ninety miles further than me and at a faster pace! So often, comparison is the thief of joy.

On the same day that I did my fitness test, Matteo Trentin won Stage Seventeen of the Tour de France. On route to his win, he rode one-hundred and twenty-eight miles at over twenty-nine miles per hour. There is always someone faster, prettier, smarter, and wealthier.

If we compare, we can easily find someone better or worse off than we are in every aspect of our lives. The key to fulfillment is to appreciate what we have and whom we have in our lives. Take time to lean into your specific talents and relationships, and you’ll find more peace and happiness than trying to find a greener pasture.

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