For a brief time on weekends, my husband and I traveled along the East Coast, offering my art in juried craft shows. These shows featured everything from fine art and crafts to small-batch artisanal foods. The crowds were enormous, with thousands of people streaming past my booth over several days. I’m naturally quite introverted, so I found this exhausting, which is why I did it only briefly!
I enjoyed taking time away from the booth to roam the show by myself and see what other artists and craftspeople were doing. One day, I walked up to a booth where they were selling gourmet pickles—evidently in every variety known to man. Dozens of Ball jars with juicy pickles lined the red-checkered shelves.
I noticed a large laminated newspaper article propped up on the table in front of me. The article had a photo of a woman, joyously holding up a jar of her specialty pickles. The article spoke of her love of pickles and how she was living her dream of having a thriving pickle business! Success had found her, and her life was simply amazing!
She looked, from the photo, as if she leapt out of bed on most mornings to rush to her pickles. The article was so convincing, I found myself, for a moment, thinking, I wish I had a successful pickle business! Forget art, I’ll sell pickles, and then I’ll be as happy as she is!
When I finished reading, my eye glanced to the left, just beyond the laminated stand, to what I realized was the genuine article herself —the pickle queen in the flesh! Only she looked nothing at all like the ecstatic woman in the newspaper article.
She sat there, looking totally depressed. One arm was draped across the table, the other was propping up her head as she stared blankly into space. She looked as if she hadn’t slept in days, and her chin held what appeared to be a permanent frown. I glanced back to the photo in the article at Happiness Incarnate, and back again to the real deal—at least, the real deal in this particular moment.
Hmm. So interesting. Without making negative judgements about this woman’s life—which we have little real information about—what I’d like to look at here is the way I jumped into a negative judgement about myself because I was comparing myself to what I thought I knew about her.
I imagine you’ve also experienced this: you’re feeling pretty good about things, and then you read or hear about someone who you perceive to have something you don’t. In steps Comparison. You find yourself thinking, If only I could have…a business like theirs, a marriage like theirs, a house like theirs, etc. etc. This list is never ending, really.
It’s a sticky trap. Like flypaper.
Comparison, I find, is the opposite of gratitude. Comparison has never led me anywhere I’ve wanted to be. It is misery making. And most of the time, it’s an illusion. It’s never the whole picture. When I’m stuck in comparison and feel I’m coming up short, I throw away what happiness I have in my hands, right now, for the illusion of an imagined happiness in someone else.
When we come across people who seem to have something we don’t we can send a silent blessing for their real happiness, out beyond any illusions, and we can extend that blessing to ourselves and remember to be thankful for our life, exactly as it is.
What’s the best life? The one I have.