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Comparison is NOT the thief of joy

A new way of looking at the old phrase

Every morning I would descend the ancient stone steps to my classroom at the bottom of the hill. Some days I’d slow down as I walked, soaking in the green mountains with their permanent blanket of clouds nestled in their creases. From atop the hill, you could see all of Quetzaltenango, the colonial stone houses butted up against the slabbed-together sheet metal shacks. 

As was my routine, I’d write in a coffee shop after school for an hour every day and as I paced the cobblestone streets to the gym, I’d often think about how much I hated to be there. I couldn’t appreciate the beautiful rustic buildings or the slow-paced rhythms of the Mayan town. 

Looking back at it, I see how crazy I was. I’d give anything travel back to that time and place and routine and city. I’d love to go back to that season of my life because everything, in retrospect, looks so perfect. 

Comparison isn’t the thief of joy, it’s the slaughterhouse. 

I grew up hearing Roosevelt’s (or whoever’s) phrase, and always thought of it the same way you are now: That if you compare yourself to other people, or what you have versus what they have, you will be unhappy. 

Today, as I reflected on my time in Guatemala, Cape Cod, Los Angeles, and a myriad other places, including Colorado where I am presently, I realized that it applies much more broadly. I realized that if I compare this season of my life in Colorado to that one when I was in Guatemala, I’ll always come out unhappy. 

Just as how, when I was living in Guatemala, I was comparing it to other places I’d lived and was unhappy there too.

You could live near the most beautiful beach and complain that it doesn’t have high enough mountains, like Colorado does. You can live in Quito, a beautiful UNESCO city in Ecuador, and be disappointed that it doesn’t have the infrastructure of Kansas City. 

The list goes on.

The more you compare anything to, well, anything, you seem to be less happy. 

This applies to seasons in your life a well. Presently, I’m technically unemployed and longing to land a full-time job soon. But when I do, I’ll bemoan the fact that I have less free time like I did when I was jobless. 

See how you can get into a habit of comparing things—seasons of your life, places you live, jobs, or pretty much anything—and it’s a road straight to disappointment and complaint?

The happiest people I know seem to be the ones who aren’t doing this—they’re happy where they are. They can praise the crazy waves they rode in Australia without necessarily comparing it to where they are now, in Chicago. They were happy to live in the rush of a big city like New York, and now they’re happy to work in the slow suburbs of Littleton, Colorado.

They’re just appreciative of the differences between things, places, and people rather than comparative. 

I’m trying to be more like this, but God knows I’m struggling. I catch myself constantly looking backward, imagining that that season I was in was empirically better than this one. For this reason or that…

When we stop comparing places, for instance, we are suddenly free from expectations. We no longer need to think negatively about how Xela, Guatemala isn’t a good place because it’s not next to the ocean. Instead, we can let it be it’s own place—a beautiful place bursting with culture, life, and creativity, if only we’d stop comparing it to all the other cities we’ve loved in the past. 

Stop comparing your present season to past ones—you have no idea what could happen tomorrow, propelling you into the greatest season of your life if only you’d stop comparing it to others you’ve had before. Time is a blank slate and you’re the one who gets to choose what happens next in your life.

Will you continue to hold onto all the experiences you’ve had before, hoping the next ones you’ll have will measure up, or will you just enjoy the ride, as it happens in the present moment? 


2 comments on “Comparison is NOT the thief of joy

  1. Ethan, you have learned one very important thing about life’s many seasons. When we’re always comparing our present with the past, it will never hold up. But each season brings with it new things we must experience before we can move on. Sometimes we avoid or miss the value of what God wants us to learn at the present time. My first wife always told me that if we don’t learn the lesson he wants to teach us, we will have to face that lesson again and again until it sticks. God, like any good teacher will change the way we are taught with new experiences and new venues, but the lesson is basically the same.

    “Stop comparing your present season to past ones—you have no idea what could happen tomorrow, propelling you into the greatest season of your life if only you’d stop comparing it to others you’ve had before. Time is a blank slate and you’re the one who gets to choose what happens next in your life.” —. This is an interesting quote, and one that I’ve heard before. To us mortal beings, life may “appear” to be a blank slate, but much of what happens to us we have no control over. That doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t make plans, but we must be prepared for changes in plans when they come. That’s why, I believe, God wants us to be conformed to his will. If we trust Him with our lives, and accept those things that come in any new season, I believe we will indeed live the Abundant Life (life to the fullest) Jesus promised in John 10:10.

    Keep writing, my young friend. The best is yet to come!

  2. Jacob Bos

    Yo Ethan home slice… you keep doing you man. What a great post this is. Tbh I’m thankful God had me run into your blog years ago cause I’m just a few year behind you, learning the same lessons. I’m 26 out of college working at an air force base in okc and working for the gov 3yrs is secure, pays good, and safe but boring as hell. A girl that popped into my life last October along with amazing group of friends, we went on a ski trip, a float trip, AMAZING romantic times with her, got too excited about her made a move and her uncertainty about me plus my over excitement pushed her away. Honestly I think I was supposed to just stay friends with her… anyways that’s not going anywhere but at least I tried to pursue and be real with her, but now I’m back to hurting and thinking God loves watching my rejections lol. I’m sure singlness is waaaaaay more important and valueable and better than I know… but down here being 26 no way haha caue i be thinking why isn’t MY women sleeping in MY bed walking around MY house cooking US food while I bring home $$$ and take us on trips and have like nine(dy) kids out of a minivan… lololol

    Jokes aside, life is good, I’m healthy, look good, fit, active, have lots of good friends, time, money, good church, what’s there to complain about. Anyways just wanna say to you from the younger you I beleive in you and know our lives are going somewhere we have purpose in our life we impact people we love our community our family is proud of us our women desire us our society needs us.

    Keep writing. I’ll keep reading. – jb

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