The Thief of Joy

I have a friend (okay, fine, someone I know and haven’t seen for ten years) on Facebook whose Instagrammed life is doing bad things to me. The red lipstick, the smudged eyeliner, the obscure composition and moody filter that manages to showcase her cheekbones, wind whipped hair, some sort of vintage poncho and South of France backdrop simultaneously. All of it supposed to be some sort of ironic comment on something, what I don’t know, I’m not even sure she does. I think the attempted message is one of extreme self awareness blended with ‘fuck the system’ all veiled with a thin gossamer of faux deprecation, whereas the overall effect is one of ‘I basically want to tell you how fantastic I am without appearing to even vaguely care that I am fantastic, because I am above appearing to care about anything, I have greater concepts to ponder.’ It makes me wild with this curious, caustic blend of hatred and, most, most, most unfortunately, a type of envy.

Anyway, I’m getting off track and I can feel my blood pressure rising. Where was I. Ah, yes. Lately I have been doing a lot of precisely what I know will leave me feeling like shit and sap all positive energy from my soul and channel it into a well of bitterness and irritation. I have been comparing. Comparing myself, my life and my achievements with those of others. Via, no less, social networking. Via a medium people use purely to incite comparisons, via platforms upon which people present themselves, carefully edited so as to snugly (and smugly) fit the confines of the image they want you to have of them. The image they want you to be envious of.

I have long considered myself, on my stronger days, when I also hold the calm belief I will win the Booker Prize before I shuffle off this mortal coil, far too zen to buy into this comparing lark. I don’t believe in jealously, beyond that it is the most poisonous of emotions. And I know an Instagrammed moment can tint reality beyond recognition because I have instagrammed moments myself. I know they are about as real as the boobs in Essex. I know Instagram is worth billions because it preys on our innate love of self-editing and promotion, because it is part and parcel of this much maligned everyone’s-a-celebrity age, an age that has spawned reality TV, blogs (ha!), self publishing, Facebook and the Kardashians. I know, I know, I know.

And yet, flicking through fake polaroids of vintage sundresses in Cannes and dinner parties in London, noting status updates about novels in the works and realising Mark Fecking Zuckerberg is only eight months older than I am, that awful, acidic, happiness-corroding  feeling of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ slithers into consciousness. And it puts the biggest dampener on absolutely everything in sight. And as it dampens, it smugly reminds me, ‘you know better than this’ and then goes and rains merrily all over any parade it can reach.

A very wise man, Roosevelt if the internet is to be believed, once said that comparison is the thief of joy. I printed that baby out and stuck it on my wall. And I think about it every single time I come face to face with an Instagram. I think about it every single time I read a humble brag status update or tweet. Every single time I see someone doing something I want to do and questioning whether they (and their dreadful writing skills/punctuation/grammar skills) deserve it. Jealousy and bitterness, I remind myself, are ugly and counter productive. Comparison is the thief of joy.

And it isn’t just comparing yourself to others. It is also comparing yourself to the vision you had in your head of how things were going to be. The internet also yielded another piece of wisdom while I was searching for something completely unrelated the other day. This gem; what screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be. I printed that baby out too. We all have this idea of ourselves we have long harboured, long nurtured, long expected to smoothly come into fruition, like magic, on the specific birthday of the age cut-off we have given ourselves.  A novel by 25. A n acclaimed screenplay by 28.  An apartment in New York by 30. A doctorate by 32. Retired and living off the proceeds of several blockbuster novels by 38. On a yacht by 40. You know, all those obvious things you were going to do. Those ideas you had that you compare your now to and think ‘what happened?’

God, it’s poison.

All of it sucks the very happiness, the colour, from now. From your now, which no one else can have, which is all yours and wonderful and whether entirely expected or unexpected still yours. And it doesn’t deserve being made it feel like it isn’t good enough. Because it is.

Everybody Loves a Good Quote

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49 Replies to “The Thief of Joy”

  1. I don’t often comment on blogs, but I really like this one. It’s really well written and also totally relatable. I also often find myself comparing my life to others, and as you said, it is a complete poison. This is the one I’ve got printed out:

    Stop being jealous of others. – Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own. Ask yourself this: “What’s something I have that everyone wants?”

    All the best, cheers!

    1. Am going to add ‘stop counting others’ blessings and count your own’ to my daily mantra – very zen! And you’re right, we all have something that someone else wants, we just never look at it that way.

  2. “Comparison as the thief of joy” certainly rings a bell with me and I’m very glad you wrote about it, even if it hurt you a little to say it with honesty. It’s an infectious habit, especially when the recession hits and affects how quickly you achieve your goals against others who managed to get their foot in before then. I am currently following a blog written by a person I used to be good friends with (10 years ago!) and she has beautiful photos of her healthy vegan lifestyle alongside reviews for cool and hip restaurants she has been to with her perfect boyfriend of x-amount years… green as the broccoli she dips in houmous, I am! But what do I do? Continue to read her blog and try some of these fairytale salads she eats (or cut my pickled gerkins the same way she does to make mine a fairytale salad!) to show that “comparison is thief of original ideas” 😉

    1. Habit is the right word, actually. I think it is natural in some ways, but you have to prevent it from becoming something you do all the time as a matter of cause. I do the same thing with blogs that illicit this bad response from, it’s terrible but bizarrely addictive hahaha.

  3. Reblogged this on And then there's me and commented:
    I read this from my phone this mornin. The rain is pouring outside while the rest of the house sleeps and I try to convince myself I should go to work. This entry was perfect for that moment. Go read–see if it fit

  4. I don’t really compare myself to others, except in coupleness. I’m single, and have always had a hard time with the long haul of a relationship but wonder what I’m missing and am moved by the beauty of the way couples live with each other…

    1. I think it is the best way to be, to not really compare yourself. I mean I guess, in many ways, we are sort of wired to compare ourselves in some ways. It offers perspective and context. I just have to keep mine reined in. As for singledom vs coupledom, there will always be arguments for both, right? They are equally as beautiful.

  5. Thanks for sharing. We all fall into this trap. It helps if we can reframe jealousy from something evil into a manageable emotion thats trying to tell us something. If we worry over a loves fidelity, what we are actually doing is remembering that we care and value that person. Envy of what someine else has is a reminder of what we might want and to make sure we’re on the right path towards it. Even better, there’s a ‘friend’ out there who we can ask, how’d you do it? I think you are in for a big life indeed. 😉

  6. I cannot express enough how refreshing it is to read something this raw and honest. The way you touched on this culture conflict through your own lens really hit me hard. I struggle with this constantly. It is especially difficult for my peers and myself (of the 18-21 age bracket) that have never lived in a time where social media did not reign. I want to print this entire post up and put it in my wall! Thank you for this!

    1. Just keep reminding yourself of that wonderful quote down the bottom – social media is made for people’s carefully edited highlight reels, bite size pieces of a bigger, messier more complex production otherwise known as life. We only know our own messiness and complexity, it is pointless to compare it to the shiny, instagrammed bite size pieces of others.

  7. I have to say, I love everything about your blog – but this post, especially, is awesome. It is heartfelt and authentic and totally on-point. My daughter is 15 and I am 45, so the way we use and react to social media is totally different. She is immune to comparison, jealousy, all the nasty stuff that still, at times, leaves me gutted. In so many ways, she is more mature than I am and reminds me that those “moments” that people post are just that – moments in time, most likely posted by people way more extroverted than we are who don’t give it a second thought. You are right… Comparison is poison. Great post! Thank you!

    1. The kids who have literally grown up with all of this – I was 14 when the internet became a MUST HAVE THING, so had a little life before it, have a really different approach, don’t they. They come at it with far more understanding of its motivations and machinations. Thank you so much for your kind words, I am glad you enjoy the blog, I like having you here!

  8. Great post! I also agree on this!!
    I am kinda against this “everyone is a celebrity” age/ beautifying-life-in-an-Instagram way, (and still I have a blog, check on Facebook…) it seems like every moment has to be documented, and sometimes when this bug is getting to me, I even feel a little guilty for not telling the world how I dressed up today, or about the lucky penny i found…I wonder…are we as a society going to have enough of this…will there be a point where we realize that being noticed by others is not the end of it all!! sometimes when the blues hit, I find myself wondering about the old days, where being photographed was a great event, where moments were remembered by the telling of stories in your grandparents lap!
    Anyways…this social media era sure is stirring things up on the way we view life! But let’s keep fighting this thief!! 🙂
    -Lily

    1. You are right – so often I go to document something and then think, ‘wait a minute … how many people are doing exactly what you are doing right now and not seeing it as anything more than a lovely moment to just enjoy quietly.’ Then I (try to) enjoy it quietly, like back before smart phones and photo apps made every second a performance. As for fighting the thief – let’s do it, bit by bit, everyday!

  9. I’ll admit I sometimes get inspired by what other people are doing… especially the travel blogs, and the art blogs. But the Big Reason I’m not on Facebook is probably that I don’t want to relive High School, which Facebook seems entirely to be geared for. And those days were the PRIME comparison days. Why do it again?

  10. Great post – loved reading it. Reminded me a bit of the TED talks of Brene Brown, where she argues fervently against the little ‘you’re not good enough’ devils sitting on our shoulders and whispering mean things into our ears. I guess we all have to be reminded sometimes that all we need to do is to be ourselves and this will be good enough.
    Keep going, I love your writing.

    1. Thank you so much. That comparison devil sure is a little unwelcome, shoulder-sitter. I just have to yell loudly to drown him out!

  11. Great post! I feel like you have summed up everything I’ve been feeling lately…especially the part about all the milestones I haven’t ticked off that seem irrelevant these days!

    1. I find as well, I am a bit ridiculous with milestones because I want to achieve them all, sometimes just for the sake of achievement. Oh, he has a Doctorate of Theology, I want a Doctorate of Theology! When, really, I don’t at all. Probably best to look at what I DO want and what I have done … a bit healthier hahaha.

  12. I am at a loss for words… just yesterday I was browsing through Facebook and I stumbled upon a friend’s photo album. Needless to say, it made me sad and upset with myself, but I am embarrassed to admit it.Insecurity is a heavy, dark feeling, and it literally zaps out whatever enthusiasm I had left for the day.
    I bookmarked your blog months ago, and I come back to visit once in a while. Today was the perfect day to do so. Thank you for making me feel better about myself. God bless you.

    1. You are so welcome. I think the best way to look at Facebook is like what that quote says – everyone’s highlight reel. And we only see our ‘behind the scenes’ – apples and oranges. I guess our highlight reels look pretty good too!

  13. Liv, I think we all go down this road sometimes. It is hard to avoid. You have don’t a wonderful bit of self exploration (maybe a bit to hard on yourself though).

    Stealing your own joy is what my grandmother use to say to me. She meant when I whined about what someone else accomplished in dance class rather than focusing on what I accomplished I hurt only myself (dance was my joy). I suspect this was her take on your quote.

    1. Your Grandmother was spot on. Every time you compare something, a little piece of happiness dies (like a fairy when a child cries, right?)

  14. Totally off topic, but did you make that picture on the right with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote?

  15. Liv, you are far too incredibly talented, beautiful and full of life to continue with this comparing business. Your now is exactly what and where it’s supposed to be. It’s so easy to get sucked into the should dos and haves and bes of life – but it’s important to recognise when you have and pull yourself out.

    Wonderful piece x

  16. you were fresh pressed and now we at Mother Sugar would love to give you the ‘one lovely blog award’! Congratulations on all the great adventures to come.

      1. I should have also said that this post hit straight home, like in the gut, recognize yourself in the mirror home. This idea of giving the world an extreme branded version of oneself can be done if it’s done with some self depecration, some generousity and humility towards its audience. But when it risks coming off as trite or smug, I’ve no tolerance for it. It gives me pause over the what I’m reflecting to my social world, it’s made me tighten the reigns a bit on my own inadvertant ‘campaign’. And i’m learning the ‘block function’ real fast. All of it makes for a happier me.

  17. I absolutely loved this post. The sentiments echoed here are reminiscent of the conversations that James and I have on a regular basis, because I too, have a much-hated (that is, I hate it) envy, of other people’s highlight reel. You see, I feel like time is going faster and my achievements and goals are slowing down, but others seem fine on their journey whereas I am no longer even clear of my direction. It’s extremely bothering. But you’re right – and this is what chasing aphrodite is all about – I NEED to stop comparing and start appreciating the beautiful little things everyday. Loved this post, you’re brilliant Xx

  18. Brilliant post! Your perfect writing makes my writing self-conscious, I must confess haha. I love the quote you entitled this post with and I have proven it’s very true. I constantly fall into that comparison through Facebook game and end up feeling really down and miserable, so I try to limit my time on social networks. I completely agree with the fact that most of the times we only see what people carefully choose to exhibit.
    My own 18 year old sister edits her pictures in Photoshop before publishing them on Facebook and after meticulously choosing the ones she looks good in.
    I used to compare my long distance relationship with another friend’s apparently perfect one that was being displayed all over Facebook every single day. I later on found out those public displays of affection intended to cover up a very flawed relationship. That’s when I realized how stupid it is to get bummed by what I see on Facebook. Not everything is a lie, but most of what we see is “staged”. I share your thoughts on Fashion Blogs, I feel like the worst dressed person after I go through any of those. But, I am currently avoiding comparison at all costs by any means because I won’t allow my joy to be stolen anymore.

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