Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Human nature may compel us to compare ourselves to others, but I believe it’s our response to the comparison that matters.
There were two large piles of logs by the stairs leading to our boat dock. The wood was likely cut from many trees over many years and haphazardly thrown on the unsightly heaps. From the day we moved in, I envisioned the logs neatly stacked near the fire pit two-hundred feet up the hill.
When I realized neither Mike nor magical forest sprites were going to do the job, I decided to tackle it myself. Depending on their size, I could put four to six logs in the wheelbarrow, push them up the hill, and unload them between two trees.
It took me two days to move roughly 500 pieces of wood. I battled bugs, frogs, and several irate chipmunks who squawked at me for ruining their playground. (A snake would have ended my mission.) When I ceremoniously placed the last log on the new woodpile, the clouds parted, and the angels sang. I was filthy, sweaty, and bone tired, but I was also pretty darn proud of myself.
That evening we took a boat ride around the lake. For the first time, I noticed other people’s woodpiles. Some were a mess and made me feel a little smug. But a few stood out as the best woodpiles on the lake. They were neater, sleeker, and more artfully arranged. They were so much better than my woodpile!
I quickly recognized my foolishness and had a good laugh at myself. As human beings, I think it’s perfectly natural to compare ourselves to others. We may compare our work, possessions, appearance, achievements, or character. When I find myself in comparison mode, I run it through a little test I’ve devised.
I ask myself this question: Do I admire this thing enough to do everything it would take to have it in my own life? If the answer is no, then my response is to simply admire it, appreciate it, and compliment it, if possible. The conscious decision not to have this thing part of my life, whatever it may be, releases any envy, jealousy, or fear that I don’t measure up.
If the answer is yes, then I ask myself a few more questions. Am I willing to invest the necessary time and resources? Would this honor my gifts, interests, and values? Does it fit my lifestyle? Is it the right time? If the answer is still yes, then it’s reasonable to let the comparison turn into inspiration.
So what was my response to the woodpile issue? The next time I saw my neighbor, I said, “Hey, Glenn, that’s one beautiful woodpile you’ve got there.” He told me he burns wood all winter to heat his cabin, explaining his need for a spectacular firewood system. I’m convinced our woodpile is perfectly adequate for occasional campfires and s’mores.
Want a simple example when comparison turned into inspiration? We were disappointed the bright orange birds that flocked our neighbor’s feeders didn’t visit ours. I stopped Bill one day and asked him his secret. He told me orioles like a certain type of feeder which has to be filled with grape jelly up to two times a day. Mike and I agreed the effort would be worth the thrill of seeing the beautiful birds outside our own window.
Bill generously gave us an extra oriole feeder. I regularly buy huge jars of grape jelly, and Mike fills the feeder daily. Now we don’t have to creepily stand on our deck with binoculars admiring the orioles at our neighbor’s house.
That seems like a win-win situation for everyone, including the well-fed birds who live in our neck of the woods.