We have all found ourselves to some degree comparing and judging our life experiences, appearances, relationships, professional and academic successes to those attained by others. There are two logical errors that lead to envy and covetousness which poison the soul: a) you can never know the totality of a person’s life and b) my happiness is not conditional upon your successes or failures.
Recently, a friend and I flew to Madrid from Cairo, exploring Seville, Cordoba, Granada and Ronda, savouring the joys of Moorish architecture, Andalusian food and flamenco shows in the most authentic tablaos. We then moved to Tangier, Morocco, via the port of Tarifa, after a delightful afternoon spent gazing at the beautiful views of the Strait of Gibraltar from atop one of the “Pillars of Hercules” that once bore the warning for sailors “nothing further beyond” in Latin.
Our travels continued as we treasured the Atlas Mountains, picturesque blue-washed villages, narrow alleys of Morocco, where we seized every opportunity to take delight in eating the Moroccan food. A month later, at the train station of Casablanca, my friend and I parted ways with tons of pictures and beautiful memories, some of which were shared on social media.
Some amongst my friends and acquaintances blatantly said they were envious of my (so to speak) trouble-free life. Those who could afford such a trip didn’t have the time to spare; others didn’t have the means to go; while some others couldn’t go because their kids are too young to track the narrow alleys of Fez’s Old Medina which become even tighter when donkeys laden with supplies walk by.
I reminded an acquaintance that he has the comfort of family, job security and most importantly, daughters that he adores, so there is no need to marvel at a younger single man who invested most of his earnings this year in a pedantically planned, epic trip.
With the advancement of technology, the models on the cover-pages of magazines, who are de facto role models for teenagers and adults across the globe, are ever more perfect than the idealised beauty depicted in the Florentine Renaissance paintings and sculptures. The tweaked waistlines and thighs, exaggerated bosoms and skin devoid of blemishes, pigmentation, and scars, all acquired through Photoshop are all too unreal, but have given a new point of comparison that is hard, if not impossible, to top. If you’re healthy and fit, another person’s “beauty,” whether natural or technology-enhanced, should not deter you from being happy. But I can understand the need to be accepted and loved.
Being consumed in constant judging leaves us with the feeling of being mediocre or, alternately, with narcissistic pride. Both antithetical perceptions absorb us in the vicious cycle of comparison with friends, family and unknown others. What’s most important — which I wish I had realised in my teens — is to learn to be comfortable in our own skin.
Comparing how you look, the model of your cell phone and car, clothes and handbags, and summer travel plans with others develops a rat race mentality. Our lives are then consumed in trivial competitions: how much you can bench press, how fast you can drive in traffic or perform various car/bike stunts, how up-to-date with fashion you are, and so on.
That is, perhaps, why I see young boys and girls going out of their way to categorise classmates based on their perceptions of haves and have-nots and go on forming superficial friendships.
Even the very devout are not free from the curse of comparison. How long a person stays in prostration during a prayer is just another example. Those who know the pitfalls of judging and comparing stay mindful of their thoughts and intentions. As Lee Weissman, or @jihadijew as he is known on Twitter, noted in less than 141 characters: “In my brain: ‘Wow, he is so knowledgeable’ ‘That guy can really pray.’ Enough! Comparing yourself to other people is such a dead end.”
In many ways, social media has given access to envy and increased our tendency to judge and compare our lives with others by giving us a constant feed of the new relationship statuses, jobs, children, travels and successes that our friends and acquaintances are encountering.
The very fact that someone has married before you, had more children, gotten promoted, toned their body or travelled to exotic getaways may appear immensely important to us now, but such perceptions are short-sighted and shouldn’t drive us into the pit of envy.
Facebook offers relationship statuses raging from “It’s complicated” to “In a relationship” to “Divorced” among many others. In either of the relationships, you can be miserable judging and comparing yourself with others, or you can be in a state of utter bliss if you’re in harmony with yourself.
I, like many others, don’t post my worries, illnesses, loss of love and troubles on social media. If I were to give you an honest blow by blow account of my life, you may not want to be in my shoes. If you have to, mimic those with strong leadership qualities, compare yourself to those who epitomise the best of manners, follow the footsteps of those wise men and women who posses a strong sense of ethics, morals and fight for human rights and justice.
In crux, heed the wisdom of an age-old proverb, “Be careful what you wish for; your wish may come true” and find happiness in what you have.
(Photo Credit: Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com)
Fahad Faruqui is a journalist and an educator. He read Philosophy of Religion (with a particular interest in Sufism) and Middle Eastern Studies as an undergraduate at Columbia University and then pursued an M.S. in Journalism from its Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/fahadfaruqui. This article was originally published on Dawn.com and The Huffington Post.