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