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The Thief of Joy

April 26, 2022

Last week I started the week standing on a dugout at the Braves stadium, speaking to a corporate leadership event.

At the end of the week, I spoke to a group of 30 high school students.

The stadium speech was a thrill, but something happened in the conversation with high school students that truly caused me to think.

At the end of my talk, one student asked me this question: What do I do when I feel less than other students who are achieving more than me?

The psychological term for that student’s question is called relative deprivation, and it’s something that affects students, adults, and every single person who has ever been on social media!

Personally, I didn’t struggle with this as much until I was an adult.  I remember being a year or two out of college, and when I compared myself to my circle of friends, I thought I was doing well. Then, I visited a friend who was living in New York and worked in the finance industry. I quickly realized that if I were to compare myself to him, I’d be losing. My job was not nearly as prestigious, my clothes not nearly as nice, my home not nearly as impressive, and my life not nearly as exciting as his.

It was a fun visit to New York with friends, but I remember returning home and feeling inadequate.

Relative deprivation. Social scientists define this concept as “the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that they have less of what they believe themselves to be entitled than those around them.”

Said another way: Comparison is the thief of joy.

It happens when we see our neighbor pull up in a brand-new car and wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford a nicer vehicle.

It happens in the business world when we go to someone’s new office space and wonder why they have the clients and success we don’t have.

It happens when the pastor sees the church down the road that’s double the size of their tiny church building.

It happens when your coworker receives the promotion you think you deserve.

It happens when your friend’s child gets into their dream college while your child is struggling in school.

When we start comparing ourselves to one another, we start to feel less than, but here’s the truth: We were not created to have an equal amount of things.

This is a tough reality for some people to accept, but it’s a reality, nonetheless. We must fight the urge to compare and choose to focus on what we do have.

The inverse of this struggle is equally as dangerous. When we compare ourselves with others who have less than we do, we have a false feeling of superiority.

Getting caught in the comparison game is a terrible trap that results in a self-image based on the people you encounter each day.

So, here’s our challenge this week: Stop worrying about what everyone else has and be thankful for what you have. I know this is easier said than done, but you’ll be far more fulfilled when you put this principle into practice.


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