Every time I pick up a magazine about celebrities to catch up on the latest gossip, a funny thing happens: by the time I finish reading, I’m awash in bad feelings about how I compare to the beautiful young bodies and the glamorous careers, and what starts out as a fun diversion in the doctor’s office becomes an exercise in regret and envy. The possibilities for self-comparison don’t stop with media, however. Whether it’s another woman’s looks, bank account, or career, the list of possibilities women have for finding themselves wanting are absolutely endless. But it’s no way to find joy in life.
Self-comparison is as old as the first fig leaf. “Envy is ever joined with the comparing of a man’s self; and where there is no comparison, no envy,” Sir Francis Bacon wrote more than four hundred years ago. Envy is the shadow side of admiration, the feeling of wanting for ourselves what seems so impossible to attain. While it may give us a valid message once in a while—maybe it is time for a little wardrobe upgrade or a mini vacation—envy distracts us from focusing on those gifts that we do have to contribute, the things that make you, you.
The habit of comparing ourselves to others is a habit we can happily do without. Think about how envy creeps in to your life. Is there a particular trigger? If the trigger points to something you want, think about ways to get it. I once had a case of intense envy over another women’s designer purse, which meant a splurge just beyond my financial reach. When a special occasion came along, though, I went for it. And I’ve always been so glad I did. If it just results in bad feeling, though, be kind to yourself. Either try not to expose yourself to it—put down those movie magazines!—or renew your appreciation of those talents that only you have, whether it’s singing, drawing, dancing, or showing off a great pair of legs. Whatever those assets are, revel in them, develop them, show them off. There’s only one you, and that’s a gift!