Human beings are often ungrateful for what they have no matter how much they accumulate. There is always someone with a better car, a better house, or who makes more money. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others that we miss a great deal of our own lives. The old adage that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence applies here, but it should be expanded. If you spend too much time looking at another’s grass, your own will slowly wither. We forget to see that God has given each of us gifts, as well as a vocation in this world which only we can fulfill.
How Much is Enough?
Many people believe that others have the perfect life.
The sad part about the comparing game is that no one wins. There is always someone else who will have what you want. In the movie Wall Street the character Bud asks the antagonist Gordon Gekko the following question: “Tell me Gordon, when does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough?” Gordon then famously answers: “It’s not a question of enough, pal.” The point of this dialogue is to show the audience that Gordon’s lust for money will never be satisfied no matter how long he runs after it. The same goes for the rest of us if we spend all our time wishing to have someone else’s life instead of our own.
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that many people believe that others have the perfect life. Any therapist will tell you that many of their patients claim that others have it together and that only they are suffering. While at face value this is an ego-centric viewpoint, it really shows a person who is greatly suffering from a lack of genuine relationships. When we spend too much time on social media, and not enough time simply sitting with others then it is easy to find ourselves believing such lies as everyone else has it together and that we alone suffer.
Our most profound longing is for God.
Why do we give into this pointless cycle? The simple answer is because of the Fall, but there is much more to it than this. The deeper psychological/spiritual answer is that nothing in this world can really fulfill our desires. While such things as spouses, children, or that nice vacation can bring us moments of deep peace, none of them can fully satisfy our desires since our most profound longing is for God. As quoted time and again, St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Until our spiritual life is put into order, we are fooling ourselves if we think that we can find true satisfaction in our material life. One inevitably will influence the other.
How to Escape the Comparing Game
Reflect upon the concrete good things that God gives us each day.
How, then, can we take the proper steps needed to help us not fall into comparing ourselves to others? Put simply: we need to employ the virtue of gratitude. We should focus on the fact that each day we wake up is a gift, how being able to turn on the lights is a gift, and how it is such a gift that we are able to just waltz into a grocery store for food. By reflecting upon the concrete good things that God gives us each day, our minds and hearts are transformed and realigned to focus more on the positive things of our lives rather than the negative. In particular, performing the Examen – that daily inventory in which we consider God’s presence in the events of each day – will help us to recognize all the gifts God has given us. More so, by considering the joys that God gives us each day, we become more disposed to discerning our vocation in this life: both state of life and work vocation. When we embrace our God-given vocation, we find that fulfillment which only God can give in this life.
While we can minimize the Comparing Game’s allures, we can never rid this temptation from our psyche. We may always feel that twinge in ourselves when we see someone post that lovely vacation photo on Facebook, or when someone drives their new car right by our home. Original Sin has left a mark on all of humanity which cannot be erased. However, that is not cause of sorrow. With God’s help, we can develop the proper perspective needed to find reasonable happiness in this life, and then supreme happiness in the next.