Imagine a window, a tiny wooden window covered with pretty floral curtains. Have you often wondered what lies behind those curtains? A sneak peek shows a beautifully painted wall with ornate picture frames of laughing families on vacation. Or maybe a huge television and high class home theatre. Looks like such a happy household with so much of fun and happiness. They have all their desires fulfilled and must be so content with life.
Now let us move the curtains a little. A wider view, a different angle. And what does it show us? A completely different perspective. It might show the tears behind the smiles or the EMIs behind the equipment which were not visible when we had a sneak peek.
This is how we carry on in life. We make assumptions about people and their lives based on the sneak peek that we get. We decide how they are happier, more successful, more content than us.
I recently met a young man who believed he is the only one struggling in life. “Everyone else is so sure about what they want. They are set in their path.” How did he know that? Was it part of some research or survey? No, it was his assumption based on an hour’s interaction with his friends. Just because they spoke of what they wanted to do in life he took them as successful.
Another girl believed that she had the world’s most conservative parents. All her friends’ parents allowed them ‘everything’. Really! On further questioning she accepted that she assumed this based on few incidences, and not even of the same person! Different parents who allowed their children to do different things on different occasions, but all were tagged under ‘everyone is allowed everything’.
Most of us compare ourselves to other people, to their lives, to their achievements, to their looks etc. We compare our lives with celebrities, with our friends, with our relatives, even with strangers on the roads!!
A young teenage girl would have episodes of anxiety every time she walked down her college road. She compared herself to all the ‘beautiful girls with excellent figures’ . God has given everyone such awesome bodies! Ummm I did not know God had a gym. I suggested that she join a gym if she wanted to lose weight. But apparently everyone is born with a healthy body except her!!!
Another man would get furious watching any movie (no not because of bad stories and tacky acting) but because the actors made so much more money than he did without doing any work! I asked him if he knew how hard those actors worked and what kind of a schedule they had? Of course not. He had just peeked into the window and made an assumption about the house.
We don’t stop at that. We want to peek inside one window and make an assumption about the whole apartment. A young man pursued the dream to go abroad. Why? Because everyone in the West gets to have fun and live as they want. His profound analysis was based on all the TV series that he had watched.
And no, it’s not just limited to vulnerable teenagers whose hormones apparently mess with their rationality. Even the mature adults tend to get into comparison.
I have heard a lot of people talk about how their spouses are not like their friends’ spouses. ‘All my friends’ husbands take them out on romantic dates. All my friends’ have wives who can cook food better than mine’ etc and the lists go on and on. This based on social media pictures of the said friends and one odd dinner at another friend’s house.
A distressed married lady once told me that she wanted to have a life of another friend. ‘ She has no problems in life. Her life is picture perfect. She is pretty, educated and has a good career and to top it all has no problems in her married life.’ All this based on the view of a kitty party evening.
Another really anxious professional told me that everyone else was confident and fluent when it came to office work. Whereas he lacked the skills and was not sure of anything. He based this on his observations during team meets and lunches.
So why do we compare ourselves to others? Why do we need an external bench mark? Why the desire to be someone else?
Mainly because we never learnt to look at the whole picture. What we see is what the world shows. The artistically decorated hall. We fail to look at the rest of the house.
I have asked all these people whether their friends know of their problems? How they suffer in their personal life? Do they talk about their problem in public or on social media. Most of them did not. So basically when the rest of the world looked at their window it was beautiful. There was no sign of the struggle, the anxiety, the loneliness. To the rest of the world their life was desirable. I am sure many of them would have envied these people.
Each one of us is born different. With a different genetic make up and a different environment. Each of us brings something unique to the world and makes it a little different.
Similarly each of us has a different set of problems and weaknesses. It is not possible for a person to excel at everything. We all have those few things that go wrong despite our best intentions and efforts.
Comparison is natural. We all do it. We all have had people who did it to us. However let’s just remember certain things before we compare.
A comparison is between two similar things. We cannot compare Lata Mangeshkar to a modern day singer because they sing to different audience, with a completely different sound system in a completely different era. Just because both are playback singers does not mean we can compare. Similarly we cannot compare a traditional Kathak dancer to a Salsa dancer. Before you compare yourself to anyone at least make sure that the two are comparable (we all learnt some statistics did we not?)
A comparison is based on facts not assumptions. Make a comparison when you have seen the whole house and lived in it before you compare. What is offered for public is definitely not the real picture. People show their best view to the rest of the world.
A comparison is not based on end result. If you want to compare start from the beginning. Compare the hard work, the sacrifices and the struggle. Life is not easy for anyone. We all have our share of struggles. Just because the end result is desirable does not mean that the struggle did not exist. Many believe that the children of successful people have it easy. That children of let’s say successful actors and businessmen have everything given to them on a golden platter. Not really, they have a different struggle. The struggle of pressure, of expectations and of constant comparisons from people like us who do not know the whole story.
So next time you peak behind a curtain remember it’s not the whole view.
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About the author
Dr Gauri Choudhary is an MPhil in Clinical Psychology from Mumbai. She has her expertise in Adult and Child Psychotherapy and diagnostic Psychometry. She is also competent in neuro-psychological assessments and retraining.