How do we avoid the side-by-side comparison the digital world inspires?
We’re often warned of Internet pitfalls: pornography, illegal downloading, addiction to video games or social networks, neglect of real-life relationships and more.
Yet there is another insidious Internet predator we don’t often talk about.
As I scroll through my Facebook news feed or Twitter home page, I’m bombarded with pictures, status updates and blog posts from my peers. Many people in their twenties, like me, are still figuring life out. They’re off on adventures, exploring the world and learning new things, figuring out love and friendships and what it looks like to follow God in this stage of their lives. As I browse their posts, I often find myself wishing I could be in their shoes, living their lives. Glamorous lives, it often seems.
In other words, the online realm sets up the danger of comparison.
Road trips. India. Beaches. Paris. Weddings. Mexico. Celebrities. Babies. New York City. Skydiving. Grad school.
My life currently includes none of those things, and it is all too easy for me to wish my circumstances could be otherwise.
In small doses, comparing our lives to others doesn’t seem so bad—it seems only natural to see and analyze what others our age are doing. At times, it may compel us to work harder to achieve what we desire, or it can provide perspective when we find our circumstances overwhelmingly bleak.
Often, though, comparing introduces us to a hazardous path. It may start as a slight irritation, a question of “How did he afford such a nice car?” or “Why did she get the job and I didn’t?” or “Where haven’t they traveled to?” But it rarely ends there.
Comparison can easily bring to light any and every little thing we are discontent with in our lives. From there, discontentment can quickly become full-blown envy—the type of envy that can make us irritated with God, questioning why others seem so abundantly blessed while we sit in a steaming pile of self-pity. When we allow envy access to our minds, it robs us of the joy in our lives because we become fixated on the seemingly greater amounts of joy in the lives of others.
In her book Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist writes:
When you compare yourself to another person, you always lose, and at the same time the other person always loses, too. Each of us has been created by the hands of a holy God, and our stories and the twists and turns of our lives, the things that are hard for us, and the things that come naturally, are as unique to us as our own fingerprints. One way to ensure a miserable life is to constantly measure your own life to the lives of the people around you.
In this digital era, it is easier than ever before to compare our lives to the people around us. Particularly for young people who are active in the realm of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, it is easy to fixate on the successes and joys of our peers while becoming bogged down in the ways we feel our own lives fall short.
As a recent college graduate who is single, living with my parents and watching many of my friends start exciting new chapters of their lives—be it grad school, serving in another country or getting married—I am learning how diligent I must be in fighting comparison and envy. Some days I am able to be genuinely happy and excited for my friends, and other days, not quite so much.
There are three things I’ve found helpful in acknowledgement of this problem:
Know Your Triggers
Is it craft or DIY projects? Wedding photos? Travels blogs? Fashion news? Baby announcements? Party ideas? Identify the things that send you into a tailspin of comparison, and be aware of them every time you open your browser. If necessary, make a mental (or physical) list, to stay intentional and aware of your weak spots.
Be Selective About Where You Allow Your Mouse to Take You
Are there certain blogs you should avoid, because they make you feel as though your own life will never measure up? Do certain friends constantly post statuses and photos about how wonderful their life is, while you look them over and overflow with envy? Avoid the sites that cause you to compare, even if only for a time. After you’ve given it a rest, you’ll probably be able to come back with a refreshed perspective.
Pray That God Would Help You Find Your Worth in Him
Your story, your circumstances, your life has unique value. Surround yourself with people who affirm this, and replace time spent on websites that make you jealous with time spent praying and reading about God’s love for you—just as you are. It sounds simplistic, and it is; but simple things can become powerful reminders that your worth is found in who you are in Christ, not in your life circumstances.
These are meager suggestions compared to the darkness comparison and envy can bring into your life. I have far from mastered them, and never entirely will. But as much as I enjoy flipping through wedding photos and reading blogs about people’s travel adventures, I’ve come to realize that the life I live is mine; it is not the life of the people around me. We have different paths, and that is OK.
As we engage the social world, we must careful to not let glimpses of the lives of our peers rob us of the joy in our own story.