A talk show host I know used to respond to callers who asked him how he was doing by saying, “Better than some, not as good as others.” I thought that was wonderful. That’s the truth around the world: we assess where we’re at by comparing ourselves to others. But the problem we each have is that we’re always comparing apples and oranges. For example, you can’t compare yourself to someone just because he or she is the same age since his or her journey from zero to this point has been very different from yours.
As a general rule, comparing yourself to others is a bad idea – a seriously bad idea. It makes you either arrogant or unhappy. Those are your only options. Of course, there’s the exception that you’re comparing yourself to someone else in the hope of emulating whatever traits you’re inspired by, but that’s not typical. What’s more typical is envy.
I remember I had one person in therapy on and off for about a decade. She was extremely intelligent, but spent much of her life acting like a total ding-a-ling. One evening session, she was in a bad mood and started pacing in my office. She kept looking at my diplomas, licenses, and other stuff I’d hung on my wall to impress people and make them know I was actually “for real.” Then she stopped and said, “I am the same damn age as you and look at all these. I will never catch up to you!”
I looked at her and replied, “Catch up to me? You’re not on the same path. You’re on an entirely different path and yours started from a deep hole” (don’t even ask me about her childhood; that was the deep hole). I said, “I didn’t start from a very deep hole, and I didn’t have to climb out. So, comparing us makes no sense.”
“But still -”
“There is no ‘but still,’” I said. “We each have our own path in life – our own, unique life path. You have to respect yours, and I have to respect mine. I cannot, nor can you, judge your own life path based on where somebody else is at any particular moment. A path is a long line. A moment is a dot. You can’t compare long lines to dots.”
So, how do you get through envious or jealous moments?
Be gracious. You’ve heard me say a zillion and 3/4 times on this program the best way to handle agitated feelings about people is to be nice to them. They may deserve it, they may not, but it’s better for your heart and intestines that you do.
Also, keep in mind externals are not a very good measure of worth. I’m more interested in people who have a really deep, good heart than a fancy car, jewelry or a house. That’s what I value. If you’re going to be envious at all, envy somebody for his or her inner beauty.
Lastly, remember that while you’re being envious of somebody, someone else is probably looking at you and having that same fit of envy. Everybody’s got some natural talents, abilities and gifts, and there’s always going to be somebody saying, “Gee, I wish I had it like she/he does…”
And that’s the irony of the whole thing.