Over time, and this past year especially, I have been intently focused on understanding both myself and others better. I feel I have come a long way in recognizing the various dimensions on which we all differ, in terms of personality, inclinations, values, and paradigms, which has lead to unprecedented acceptance and appreciation for those around me. I say unprecedented because this is not something which necessarily comes naturally to me. I tend to be quite black and white and like most others, have reasons for doing things the way that I do. It is often confusing to me to see people both succeed or fail spectacularly via means and methods I would never even think to employ. And although you may find this to be shockingly naïve or basic, it is an important and ongoing struggle for me to remind myself that what works for me (or does not work for me) may in fact have the exact opposite effect on someone else. This is why I find it not only fascinating, but also imperative, to understand patterns in human nature and tendencies so that I can structure my own efforts, goals, and activities accordingly. Recently I reread Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder2.0 in which he wrote that we all have “greater potential for success in specific areas, and the key to human development is building on who you already are.” His argument, and one consistent throughout all my research in this area, is that when we build upon our natural inclinations, talents, and strengths, we have tremendous opportunity for growth. Rath goes onto describe various clusters of talents that one might possess and how to leverage our strengths versus focusing on improvement of our deficiencies, but I was particularly struck by a reminder to avoid social comparison.
Theodore Roosevelt’s admonishment “comparison is the thief of joy,” is so ubiquitous that I nearly glaze over it when I come across it these days. I cringe when I think of how important truths can become so familiar that timeless and essential concepts like gratitude become almost meaningless. So often we because we know something, it ceases to hold as much significance as it should. Sadly, as we become inundated with a particular message, we can become callous and unaffected or dismissive. In my own life, just this past week I was abruptly reminded that although I may KNOW that comparison is not going to yield anything worthwhile, I found myself falling into that alluring trap. And wouldn’t you know… my happiness was indeed diminished and I became excessively dissatisfied with myself.
There are oh so many excellent resources out there which provide evidence for the fact that social comparison is not an ingredient in the recipe for happiness and life satisfaction. In upward comparisons, we fail to see the whole picture or understand the context behind the highlight reel or success of others. Deborah Carr of Rutgers University, described it well when she wrote that the perfect image that is portrayed may be the truth, “but not the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth.'” In this oversimplification, our tendency is to idealize another’s situation failing to account for his or her weaknesses, problems, or failures. Research also shows that downward comparison to someone you perceive as being worse off than yourself is no more beneficial since it “can put a strain on our relationships… [and] to the extent that these comparisons form a basis for self-esteem, it’s a fragile one because they depend on the continued misfortune of others.” Comparison is not only harmful to our confidence and happiness in the short term, but it is also creates further harm by disconnecting us from others. Jane Bolton, of the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis pointed out that if we “compare ourselves and conclude that we are less than, we feel depleted and depressed and then we want to withdraw, hide, get away from others so they won’t see us as unlovable or incapable as we see ourselves…[and] if we compare ourselves and conclude that we are better than the other, we may feel superior, contemptuous, and dismissive.” Avoiding comparison only becomes even more urgent when you consider the fact that social connections and relationships are a critical component and predictor of happiness.
I wish I could say that I have found the formula for doing just that, but alas I still have a ways to go. Although I am growing in understanding of the various strengths and weaknesses that each of us may possess and trying to focus on my own progress, I was disappointed in the fact that I allowed myself to not only become envious, but also to allow it to impact my disposition so disproportionately. Sigh. So now I am taking a step back to focus less on my deficiencies and weaknesses relative to another and more on being thankful for the many strengths and skills that I have been blessed with. One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin describes it as a paradoxical truth of adulthood – we need to learn to accept ourselves while expecting more from ourselves. There are some things that we cannot change: I will never be six-foot tall, I will never become a musical genius, and I will probably never enjoy relaxing as much as doing. I can however, expect more from myself in those areas which are within my control and continue to refine my own strengths. And in doing so I not only avoid social comparison to someone who is gifted in completely divergent ways, but I also continue to grow and progress. Tom Rath’s research shows that people who focus on their strengths daily are “more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.” Sign me up!
Also, sign me up for this Whole30 and Paleo Eggs Florentine with Avocado Hollandaise. This a dish which is really easy to make, but still makes me feel fancy every time I make it. There are no exotic ingredients or complicated steps and the avocado hollandaise is deeeelicious. It is one of my absolute favorites – without comparison 🙂
- Avocado 1 each
- Hot Water .25 cup (60 ml)
- Juice from 1 Lemon
- Salt .25 TSP
- Ghee 3 TBSP
- Eggs, Poached 4 each
- Spinach 4 cups (120 g)
- Garlic Cloves, Minced 3 each
- Shallot, Minced 2 each
- Tomato, Sliced 1 each
- Black Pepper and Sea Salt to Taste
- Add the avocado, hot water, lemon juice, salt and 2 TBSP of the ghee to a blender or food processor to make the hollandaise. Blend until smooth and creamy.
- Melt the remaining TBSP of ghee in a medium saucepan and add the garlic and shallot sautéing until fragrant.
- Add the spinach and stir to combine. Cook just until spinach is wilted and not overly mushy!
- In the meantime, poach your eggs or cook to your desired liking.
- Build your plates with half of the spinach mixture on each and then top with a few slices of tomato, followed by the eggs and a generous portion of the avocado hollandaise sauce.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy
- There will be some leftover hollandaise which should keep well in the fridge for about 3-5 days and goes well on other egg creations as well!