‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’

I first heard this quote in 2017 in my 'TED talks on trains' era. A millennium baby, I turned 17, and decided promptly - now close to adulthood - I should be a sponge of all things intellectual. All things considered, the quote was quite short and uncomplicated; I committed it to memory.

Granted, the phrasing is a little clunky, but the sentiment rings true. comparison, as many of us are painfully aware, is a lonely, miserable pursuit. it’s selfish; it steals snatched moments of excitement and compassion and enjoyment, and folds them inward. Jagged edges catch and pull focus: tugging your eye away from the celebration - the joy - of others to ask in a small, shadowed voice, when will it finally be my turn?

Upon hearing the phrase in whichever TED talk I’d chosen that particular journey, I frantically opened my trusty notes app. I diligently, if a little slowly because of my less-than-optimal audio processing speed, transcribed these six words. The exact date has been lost to the relentless updating of that particular catch-all note, so I’ll never know exactly why it resonated so clearly at that particular time, or why exactly I decided that this particular phrase was going to govern my attitude to the revision-induced fever dream that was my two a level years, but it stuck.

Perhaps in some desperate attempt to convince myself it would all be okay, even if I completely and utterly fucked it, because, by comparing myself to others as I so often had, I was closing off a pathway to accessing my own happiness; the architect of my own misery.

In the many years since (writing this, I’m realising it’s been over half a decade which honestly makes me feel a little sick) I tried to live by such a sentiment; although, perhaps a little more subconsciously recently than back when I would obnoxiously parrot the quote to a tableful of exasperated, stress-addled teens, eyes twinging from sleep deprivation, impending exams, and being well and truly done with my bullshit.

To be honest, I think, though, that I forgot.

The words that, at first, were conscious and deliberately chosen, changed in the years since. They morphed and twisted into something subconscious, then unconscious, then entirely forgotten. or, if not forgotten, then certainly not believed, at the very least.

I graduated this past summer and, honestly? Figuring out life after uni is hard. There are so many directions to be pulled in that it feels it must simply be impossible. It’s hard to describe, but it’s honestly baffling to the point where it feels like your arms and legs are no longer part of the same, familiar entity, but something entirely distinct - strangers to the body and mind they once were called to propel. It is a state that so wholly desires and invites comparison, because how can it not?

It seems as if the paths of others are so clearly visible - laid out like a glittering map of dreams, expectations, compromises, that you cannot quite reach or replicate or even identify a strand similar to your own in such a web.

Of course, I wonder if this may be an impossible, or at least improbable, task at all. We are all labouring under the same system of exploitation, of degradation, of dehumanisation, that shifts us from human to machine - worthy only as functional. Efficient. Moreover, we all share - to some degree - an understanding or awareness of the large-scale, impending climate collapse that will lay bare these great systems and their enforcement arms; ephemeral, artificial, fragile.

Yes, I believe the author of this quote - Theodore Roosevelt, or otherwise - was correct. comparison is so hugely isolating as an experience, precisely because the world feels so overwhelmingly big. Comparison is a dangerous companion, indeed; it is an essential mechanism in capitalism’s toolkit.

Because how could comparison - something which so completely closes the circuit, trapping us in our own orbits - possibly be an adequate response to the enormity of such a world, to such a complex set of seemingly cemented systems?

If joy, true joy, is found in connection - in love and connection and community - comparison is, of course, the antithesis of such things. it not only turns us inwards, but festers. It is a rot, to ask why not me, instead of why not us?

If capitalism is about manufacturing competitive systems of denial and illusions of scarcity; comparison is the perfect primer. It turns us into competitors, shifting the boundaries of possibility from something permeable to something fixed and finite - seemingly incapable of expansion, abundance, or the idea of something greater.

We compete for capitalistic survival’s necessary artifices: jobs, opportunities, money, relationships, attention, status, housing, beauty, security, independence, rootedness, personhood, the list goes on…

We are forcibly moved from a state of enjoyment to a state of envy. comparison does wily work, morphing us into beings of repellence: too wounded by others’ perceived successes to validate, interrogate, or celebrate our own.

How is it, then, that we continue on, plowing through the rejections and redirections, until we find something suitable enough, joyful enough, for whatever time we are granted and is left?

I suppose - although, who am I to suppose anything (see, there it is again) - that if one of the things capitalism predicates itself upon is comparison, then the preoccupation of self holds the answer to the question I have been dancing around.

If comparison is a thief that so eclipses the great joys of life by turning us inward, then is there not hope to be found - real and vital - in intentionally turning and reaching outward? Community, then - generosity, laughter, creativity, care, connection, laughter… are these not part of the solution? The balm that soothes the inevitable wounds of resistance.

All I know is, comparison is lonely and community is its pole. be as intentional and as open and as joyful for others as you are able, for comparison may be a thief, but community is a source, and it is sacred.