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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Goff

Comparison is the thief of joy

I came across this quote recently; “Comparison is the thief of joy” and it really resonated with me on so many levels. Perhaps more so than ever as I closely watched the fall out of this years “Leaving Certificate”. A Leaving Certificate like no other we had ever experienced, in a time that we had never experienced. A Leaving Certificate that brought us cancelled exams, predicted grades, higher points, more course places, appeals and on many levels a lot of confusion, uncertainty, frustration and upset students and parents from the class of 2020.

It brought me right back to that gut wrenching feeling I had in the pit of my stomach as I approached the Principals office on the morning of results day to receive my own Leaving Certificate results, all those years ago. The sheer anxiety and expectation that ensued. Was I going to get the same or better than my friends? Was I going to be able to go to college, like my friends? Was I going to do as well as my brothers did? Would my parents be proud? Which got me thinking… why do we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others?

The reality is - we all compare ourselves to other people.

We do this even when the comparisons aren’t meaningful, even when they make us unhappy and even when they don’t actually make us better, smarter, or more productive human beings. And we seem to be doing it more and more. But why?

The truth is we all have a fundamental need to evaluate ourselves, and the only way to do that is in reference to something else. This peculiar drive was first explored seriously by a social psychologist named Leon Festinger in 1954. Festinger basically said that people evaluate their opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to other people for two reasons:

1. To reduce uncertainty in the areas in which they’re comparing themselves.

2. To learn how to define themselves.

He called this concept social comparison theory, and it’s one of the biggest contributions to the field of social psychology. Festinger identified that human beings can’t actually define themselves intrinsically or independently. They can only define themselves in relation to someone else. When it comes to the big questions of; Identity, Self and Who the Hell Am I? we need to look at other people.

Here are some tips from Dr. Susan Biali Haas to help you avoid the comparison trap:

1. Become aware of, and avoid, your triggers.

2. Remind yourself that other people’s “outsides” can’t be compared to your “insides”.

3. Repeat whenever necessary: “Money doesn’t buy happiness, and never will”.

4. Be grateful for the good in your life, and resist any lies that shout “It’s not enough”.

5. Use comparison as motivation to improve what actually matters.

The truth about the Leaving Certificate is - the points don't matter. All that ever really matters is that you do what makes you happy, while also managing to earn a means to live and this may mean that you don’t love absolutely everything about what you work at. But enjoying your life is much more important than a career to just impress other people.

You want to make life choices that you will be proud of. Not your parents, not society. If you worked hard for your points and did well - that is a great trait and can hopefully be applied to whatever passion you want to pursue next. If you didn't do well, I'm sure there is something you are good at and can pursue. If you feel there is a career that is your calling, and you didn't get enough points for it, there is always another way in. If you did get all the points and your first-choice offer, don't be afraid to change your mind later on in the year/life. Nobody could possibly be 100% sure what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are 17/18 so it is OK to change your mind or take a different direction or path, as long as it makes you happy in the end. The most important thing to remember is if you find what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

Moral of the story;

“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.”

Marquis de Condorcet

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