Escaping the Cult of Comparison
If you can accept what you have and be happy then you're basically going to be happy right?
But it's not easy is it? I've just finished reading 'We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere,' by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel. It was great and the bits that really stuck were the exercises where you're encouraged to ACCEPT the things you cannot change (you basically have to write things down that are troubling you and put them in a jar and then consider which ones you can actually change and which you're powerless to change). I am always looking for solutions because I'm one of those people who's suffered because I tend to compare myself to others.
When I was child, I lived in South Africa for a while with my Dad. I learnt to swim and ultimately became a really good swimmer, yet nevertheless I was always watching the other girls on my swim team. Their bodies were leaner. Their costumes more fashion-conscious. Their skin more evenly tanned. I never thought about how there might be girls looking at me and thinking the very same thing.
Then when I was back in London and living with my Mum, I looked at other peoples' families and felt jealous. They had siblings. Bigger, tidier houses. Mums that baked cakes and wore aprons. Dad's in suits. I got caught in that comparison trap. In reality my Mum was probably the coolest Mum anyone had ever seen but I was incapable of seeing what was under my nose.
Then secondary school and my best friend was signed to a major agency as a model when we were both about 14 years old. That wasn't good for my comparison envy syndrome. I loved my friend dearly but it wasn't uncommon for men to approach me, chat to me and then reveal that they were really after my mate. Sometimes I was referred to as -'the funny one,' or 'the nice one.' One guy told me he liked me because he felt he could 'talk to me.' I didn't give a crap about being talked to. I wanted to be gorgeous and tall and slim and be the one who everyone stared at when she walked into the room (rather than the one who fell over on entering the room and then said something self deprecating).
I ran away to Amsterdam and joined a band. I was the SINGER in that band. Now you might think that at this stage I'd become immune to the comparison malarky and was on top of the world but NO. The other girl in the band was slimmer than me. She was a better dancer (this wasn't hard!). She was cool. She never got intimidated when we were having our photos taken so didn't look like a lump of dead wood in a glittery mini-dress. This was the girl that everyone fancied. I was constantly playing French to her Saunders (I'm not sure that's the right analogy as I love BOTH but hopefully you can see what I mean).
I then spent much of my twenties and thirties locked into the belief that everyone else had a life that was better than mine. One of my favourite pastimes was walking with my boyfriend through the wealthier areas of London and peering into the front windows at the expensive and tasteful interiors. Then complaining about the fact that our flat was tiny, right next to Wembley Stadium and had nothing posh or enviable about it (it was on reflection a nice flat. It was bright and airy and had lots of retro fittings that are fashionable now).
Now I'm in my forties and I'm getting better but still find it hard to stop myself feeling envious of others. There are more channels to get caught in comparisons you see. And I'm envious of their fertility. Their clothes. Their poncey houses. Social media definitely makes it tougher and studies point out how depression is on the rise in teenagers because they're constantly comparing their lives to others.
So how as an ageing woman, a woman with a certain amount of life experience under her belt stop herself? Does everyone suffer with it? Do we lie in our death beds envying the woman next to us because she has better dentures in the jar next to the bed?
I never thought I'd say this but I've started writing a gratitude diary. It makes a bit of sick come up just writing those words but do you know what? It works. On a bad day I struggle (during a particularly bad patch when I tried this exercise I basically wrote down 'nice food,' and 'comfy sheets' but come to think of it - those are pretty, damn, fundamental needs and not everyone has them do they?) And I don't do it every day but I try each day to think of a couple of good things about my situation. So if I scratch the car whilst driving I say - well at least I didn't crash into a wall. I won't pretend that it works for every scenario. Let's be honest, some things in life are COMPLETE SHIT and you just need to wallow and feel envious and spit and scream and maybe even make a doll out of Playdoh representing the person/thing/event you hate and then set fire to it in the garden (or fling it at a wall).
And if I'm seriously miserable then I avoid people altogether or sing LA LA LA when they're going on about their four grand holidays to the Bahamas and incredible love lives. I go LA LA LA as they open up their fridges as big as space ships and show off their fancy ice makers. LA LA LA as they show me their book that's just been published and gone to number 4 in the book charts. LA LA LA
Just see a big LA LA LA blowing in the breeze. Nothing to see her. No life is perfect. I don't need your family wet room and two bedroom holiday cottage in Cornwall. Okay?
La la la.