Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Think of a time when you were feeling contented and comfortable in a situation until you noticed someone else with something that looked much better and more appealing, and a feeling of discontent began to ripple through your mind.
As humans we are “wired” for social comparison. It probably is a Darwinian device that keeps us from getting too comfortable and stagnating in inertia. A classic study by an Emory University primatologist,, Frans de Waal, demonstrates this primal behavior. Capuchin monkeys were trained to exchange stones for pieces of cucumber. All went well, until the researchers started giving sweet grapes to some of the monkeys instead of the cukes. The monkeys with the cukes became distraught and even threw the slices of cucumber back at the researchers when they discovered that some of them were getting something “better.”
Comparison is inevitable. The degree to which we allow it to steal our joy depends on the ability of human mindset. Our ability to analyze and think through context and motivation can help us to find a happy medium between contentment and wanting our lives to be the best they can be.
One of the comparison thieves that steal joy is body image. Subsequent columns will explore how, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) “At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the United States.” Eating disorders are a treatable mental illness and awareness of this topic deserves attention.