Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, our 26th president of the United States, said it best about comparison when he exuberantly stated: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” How can comparison be a thief of joy? What did Teddy mean and how can we keep it from stealing our joy today?
His car, her looks, their marriage and children, the perfect life of someone else: we all fall victim to the well-known trap of comparison when we look at what others have and compare it to our own. Well before Teddy spoke these iconic words, the Bible was (and still is) the manual to shine a light on comparison pitfalls and ways we can avoid comparison to appreciate what we have now.
Who Said, “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy”?
Starting with the source of this famous quote, it is clear that Theodore Roosevelt was someone who viewed life with a joyful attitude. Rarely do we see any photos where President Roosevelt wasn’t giving an ear-to-ear grin to all those around him, which is unique when you hear the trials he experienced in his life. Losing his first wife and mother on the same day in 1884, Roosevelt regained his emotional footing while on his ranch in Dakota territory. He went on to be an esteemed lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War and became the youngest president in history at 42 when he became president in 1901 after the assassination of his predecessor William McKinley.
From there, Roosevelt encouraged foreign diplomacy, prompted the move toward conservation of the nation’s forests, and led the move to the construction of the Panama Canal. Although it is difficult to locate the exact time and place when Roosevelt made this profound statement, one would be able to tell that his quote stemmed from his position as leader of the United States. As president, there are people around you, along with yourself, who remind you of how past presidents acted and who are either for or against your choices for the nation. Roosevelt knew that comparison can definitely take away the joy you have with who you are and what you do.
What Does the Bible Say about Comparison and Joy?
As insightful as President Roosevelt’s quote is, God’s Word was offering advice on comparison well before anyone came to know and love Teddy. Comparing oneself to others was a chronic problem among many over the centuries and is frequently discussed in the Bible. The problem is described among those we are familiar with from the Word of God: Rachel and Leah, Jacob and his brothers, even among Jesus’ disciples. The apostle Paul was definitely one who dealt with comparison before Christ intervened on the Road to Damascus and several words shared to others during his ministry shed light on what to do about comparison.
In his letter to the Roman church, Paul discusses the importance of viewing spiritual gifts given to us by God as different and unique among one another: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them; if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith;” (Rom. 12:6). What Paul reveals here is that our gifts are supposed to be different because we are all different, but the same as images of Christ. In terms of our gifts, just as God gives us grace we don’t deserve, we are given gifts we don’t deserve and should use them in ways God wants done instead of misguided ways we might use them.
He goes deeper in his interpretation of comparison while writing to the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 10:12: “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Paul also shares this sentiment to the church of Galatia: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Both verses show the churches that comparison to men, who are comparing themselves to other men, is not wise and results in separation from Christ.
Paul drives home the best option against comparison when he tells the church of Philippi, by letter, this well-known scripture verse from Philippians 4:11-12: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” This classic quote from the Bible shows the peace we all want to have is possible; freedom from comparison and contentment in whatever state we are in because we are in this state with God.
What Should We Do When We Struggle with Comparison?
So, how do we get to this state of contentment the apostle Paul relishes about, this state with God that comparison can’t touch? There are ways to keep comparison at bay, or removed altogether, and they can be as simple as the changing of your thoughts from a previous mindset to a new one.
First off, make a physical (or mental) list of areas in your life where comparison is the strongest: marital status, career, material resources, spiritual gifts, etc. This will help you come to terms with where you find comparison to rear its ugly head. Secondly, write out some people’s names of those who you find yourself comparing your life to theirs and list out what areas you compare yourself to them. This isn’t a list to make fun of them or have hurtful thoughts toward them, but to be more aware of the comparisons you are making.
Thirdly, look at each person’s name and remind yourself that just as you are a fallen sinner in need of Jesus’s saving grace, that person needs Him daily as well. They may seem to have everything together on the outside, but they could be crippled by comparison and the opinions of others just as much as the rest of us. The same practice can be applied toward the areas of comparison you struggle with, as you can remind yourself that even if you had the best life has to offer in these areas, you wouldn’t be happy, free, or feel as loved as you do when you have Jesus.
Fourth, read and ponder on the verses shared above, or those you find while reading the Bible personally, and reflect on what the verses say about these areas of comparison. Examine how the spirit-led men/women of God dealt with the subject of comparison and witnessed God reveal absolute truths that can still impact our lives today. Finally, whenever you feel comparison rise up again, pray about the situation, person, or feeling to God and ask for His strength and discernment to be freed from the snares of this comparison trap.
3 Ways to Fight Comparision and Keep Your Joy
Now you know some ways to fight the good fight against comparison but what about ways to keep your joy intact against the thief comparison? Consider this trio of suggestions to be mindful of in remembrance of the joy you have:
- Remember the times prayers were answered or unexpected blessings were given by God to you. These times are to show that even in trials, God wants you to experience joy through His blessings and love.
- Do something you like that brings you joy when you feel joy being overtaken by sadness or hopelessness. Whether it is reading a book, calling/seeing a friend, or taking a walk through a picturesque place, these activities take your mind off of sadness and fill you with joy.
- Do something in service to someone else. Volunteer somewhere or make it a goal that wherever you go in your day that you do random acts of kindness that are to bring joy to not just you but those who don’t even know you.
Comparison is, in fact, a thief of joy, as Theodore Roosevelt so appropriately claimed, but it doesn’t need to be a constant battle we have to wage every day. Scripture holds true that those we have followed and admired in the Bible faced comparison traps of their own but chose to follow God’s discernment to remove themselves from comparison’s clutches.
We can do that as well against comparison by being mindful of ways we compare ourselves to others and reminding ourselves of the joy in our lives through blessings from God and opportunities to serve for Him. Comparison may have stolen moments of happiness in your past, but it doesn’t need to steal your present state of joy.
A Prayer to Stop Comparing and Start Living in Joy
God, help me to love the life you have given me right now. Show me the things I overlook and ignore because I am comparing my blessings to others. Help me to be content with what I have and to find joy in the here and now. Forgive me for when I compare myself to others and I lose my focus on the good gifts you have given me. Help me to hold tight to my peace and joy - secure in your love for me. Forgive me for looking for and longing for things outside of your will. You love me just as I am and my joy is found in you alone. Amen.
Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and editor for Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.
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