“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
I’m an umm, “passionate” Seahawks fan. Remember the best/worst Super Bowl of all time? When the Patriots dramatically beat my Hawks in February 2015? As the game was drawing to an end, Seattle’s team was behind and needed to drive the length of the field and score a touchdown to win. Things didn’t look great. BUT, after a couple of incredible plays all us Hawks fans were hooting and hollering because we had the ball on the ONE YARD LINE and it was only 2nd down, undoubtedly we were about to WIN the Super Bowl in the most INCREDIBLE of ways … only we did NOT! 🙁 The Patriots famously intercepted the ball and the rest is history.
Can you relate to how sports can take you from elated to devastated at the drop of a hat? Maybe sports aren’t your thing though. Think about something you did well, earned, dressed in, made, or bought that filled you with joy. Now, when you saw someone/something “better”, what happened? Our joy flies the coup! Am I right? Why is that?
Competition or comparison kills our joy.
Think about it, when we compare our selves, our team, our achievements, our possessions, our looks, our finances, our home, our kids, our intelligence, etc. to others, we will inevitably come up short, because there is always someone or something “better” than us. Even the fastest person in the world, i.e. ONE person out of BILLIONS, will only be the speediest for a race, a year, or a few years tops … AND he/she is only “best” at a specific distance.
My point is, when competition/comparison drives the car of our lives (as culture tells us it should), we end up running out of gas (aka bliss).
“Winning”, as our society defines it, is unsustainable and either always ends at some point, or is simply unattainable. Culture has a message it’s selling us: Compare and compete … always. I don’t think we have to look any further than advertisements to know this is true; capitalism is BASD on this mentality. Nor need we think any deeper than what we see on TV to know that in a comparison/competition based way of living life we always need to own MORE, do MORE, be MORE, and so on, which leaves us always LESS than we should be, LESS than others, LESS than the “ideal” we see on TV, and so on.
The beautiful thing, though, is there’s another way to approach it all. There’s a different, more blissful and joy-filled way of living: An attitude of celebration. To paraphrase my yoga teacher Eoin Finn: Instead of avoiding comparison by keeping to our selves and not seeing what others do/are, let’s check people out LOTS! Let’s notice others, not to compare, though, but to CELEBRATE! This brings me back to the best/worst Super Bowl ever, the Patriots interception and win does NOT take away from how fantastic the Hawks did. It doesn’t steal the bliss of the Seahawk’s incredible performance … if I don’t let it and choose celebration over comparison anyway.
I think there’s joy for everyone … if we have eyes to see it.
This brings me to my AMAZING wife Lisa. I recently finished writing the first draft of a book (in truth it’s the first draft of version three :). The book, titled Falling Into Love, is about the healing and transformative power of Love/community/God. On November 10, 2008, in a freak family hiking accident I fell thirty feet head first off a cliff onto a boulder. I could and should have died, but I didn’t. My book recounts this tale and I try to draw some conclusions about how loving, caring for, and doing life together is healing, transformative, blissful, and basically real life magic of the most incredible sort. Enough about my book and I, though, let’s talk about Lisa!
Lisa just finished the book and LOVED it. At face value that likely doesn’t seem like a big deal … but let me tell you, it WAS! You see, at the time of the accident I was engaged to another woman, named Carla. Carla played an essential role in saving my life and my recovery, which means she’s a key character in my book. At the time of the accident, I lived in Las Vegas and Carla lived in Washington State, meaning she was visiting me for a long weekend with her son at the time of the accident. As I lay dying on the desert floor of Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, Carla gave me mouth-to-mouth to save my life, but that was just the beginning. In a tale of ups and downs, I spent TWO MONTHS IN THE ICU … for which she stayed the ENTIRE TIME … which meant she lost her job as bank branch manager … and the home she owned … and didn’t get to see her son for long periods of time … and was removed from all her friends and family.
Can you see how this book, this story could be hard for Lisa to read?
I’d sum up what gets at Lisa’s awesomeness, what I’m learning from her, and what I hope can inspire you, like this: Falling Into Love has clear romantic subplot, a romance with a woman who gave up her life to save mine, a lady who effectively costars the book, a past flame who is NOT Lisa (my wife of today and the rest of my life) … and Lisa chooses to not compare herself to Carla, but to CELEBRATE her selfless acts and the goodness it’s brought to Lisa (in the form of me :), my daughter, my family, and others.
“Wow!” I can imagine you’re thinking, “Lisa is incredible!” Yes. Yes, she is. 🙂 <3 Here’s the thing though. Like you and I, Lisa is also HUMAN, meaning her joyful choice is available to us too. At this point, I think it’d be helpful to point out she cried quite a bit while reading the book. She had to put it down multiple times and take a timeout before coming back to it later. As I understand it, while this was partially due to the immense trauma I experienced, it was mostly because it was HARD for her to read about Carla and our past love.
When I told Lisa I wanted to right this blog, she responded by saying, “I don’t think I handled reading the book very well. I’m not sure what lessons you or others could learn.” I note the aforementioned tears and this humility both to further drive home how AMAZING Lisa is and to illustrate her choosing celebration over comparison is a decision you and I can make too.
If you think about it, there are basically two approaches to viewing Carla Lisa could have chosen: Comparison or Celebration. Put yourself in Lisa’s shoes … imagine comparing yourself to an ex-lover of your beloved. An ex who went to incredible self-sacrificial lengths to save your beloved’s life and nurse her/him back to health and wholeness. Isn’t that pretty much a losing situation?
Now, envisage flipping the script. Visualize going against our society’s norm (comparing and competing with the Joneses), instead mindfully choosing to celebrate people whose “successes” would ordinarily detract from yours. That’s what Lisa did! She decided to be grateful for all Carla did, as opposed to comparing. She elected to rejoice over how Carla’s acts played a central role in bringing more love and light into the world.
Gratitude is the sister of celebration. She’s basically a free, good for you drug that, when practiced regularly rewires your brain to see and experience more bliss in all situations. Lisa faced a very real choice I think we all have. As she read the book, it seems to me there were moments where she compared her actions to Carla’s, which led to tears and the disappearance of her joy. YET, overall, Lisa chose celebration, and it made all the difference. It led to reading my story being a blessing to her, one that filled her with bliss.
While comparison steals our joy, not only does celebration stop this theft, it INCREASES bliss. Imagine one’s joy is a pot of stew: While picking comparison would have emptied the vessel, choosing gratitude allowed Lisa to keep the joy she receives from our current relationship in the pot, while adding in the savory elements of reading a good story, seasoning the stew with happiness for Carla’s loving acts, flavoring it all with rejoicing over my continued life, and enhancing it with the yumminess of a group of friends and family who loved in the most incredible and healing of ways.
Not only do I think Lisa’s choice is available to us all, I think it has the potential to change our lives. In America at least, I think comparison is in the air we breathe, which results in way more fear, anger, distrust, and unhappiness than is necessary. Consciously and unconsciously I find myself comparing when it comes to “success” or status at work, looks, finances, homes, physique, the yoga poses I can do, how many people read my blog, the “likes” I get on Facebook, vacations, the victories of my sports teams, the actions of my kid, and so on … and I get the hunch I’m not alone in this competitive mentality.
As I type this it occurs to me: Approaching life/others via the lens of comparison is a slippery slope to either pride (when we “win”) or depression (when we “lose”). I don’t know about you, but neither of those options seems attractive to me. So, what if we did something countercultural, radical, and AMAZING, what if we learned a life lesson from Lisa and decided to approach life and others with an attitude of celebration? What if we celebrated every chance we get? What if we even cheered for the ordinary, everyday achievements of both others and our selves? I bet we could and it would be INCREDIBLE! What do you think?
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Grace and peace,