Comparison is a useless emotion

It is said that comparison is the thief of joy and is, therefore, mostly to be avoided. This is true. You’re on your own journey with your own unique circumstances. Using what other people have or what they’ve done as a guiding light to chart your progress is rarely the way to happiness. The same goes for making yourself feel superior because of what you have or have done. It might feel good for a moment, but ultimately it’s a hollow happiness.

Still, wise philosophers in both the East and West have spoken about the need to look at examples set by the greats to see where we can improve morally.

As Confucius said:

“When you see someone who is worthy, concentrate upon becoming their equal; when you see someone who is unworthy, use this as an opportunity to look within yourself.”

Marcus Aurelius spoke often of similar wisdom. “When faced with people’s bad behavior,” he said, “turn around and ask when you have acted like that.” As for worthy examples, the entire first book of his Meditations is about precisely that: depictions of the influences in his life whom he strove to be like. Notice he does not speak about how rich or honored these people were, but rather about how they comported themselves and the standards to which they held themselves.

We would do well ourselves to follow the example of both Confucius and Marcus Aurelius. Comparison is typically a dead end. The only comparison worth doing is the kind that propels you to be more worthy as a human being–whether that is aspiring to live up to the example of an admirable person, or recognizing your own shortcomings in the struggles and failings of the people around you, so that you might reflect on and fix them as you continue on your own unique journey.

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