Roosevelt Was Wrong, Comparison is Not the Thief of Joy

How using comparison as a skill can actually give you a huge boost

Scott Wilhite
Thrive Global
6 min readMar 4, 2017


Now don’t get me wrong. I like Theodore Roosevelt and I’ve gone along with his thought that “Comparison is the thief of joy” for many years, in fact I’ve used the quote in a few of my videos to steer people away from this horrible habit. But now I’m realizing that it’s not categorically true. In fact, I use comparison all the time to boost my happiness and you can too if you follow two simple principles.

First, let’s look at his point. Yes, when we willy nilly (I love that phrase too) compare ourselves to others we generally do so from a place of weakness. We see others at their best (or what we perceive of them anyway) and contrast that with where we feel we’re at. There’s generally an enormous gap because deep down we know we’re capable of more. It’s interesting how we rarely see ourselves as a work in progress and instantly get down on ourselves that we’re not at the higher level we expect from ourselves. Jon Accuf wisely counsels, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I always wonder where in my story I’m at, how about you?

It’s also easy to compare the ownership of things and fall into the self-destructive habit of jealousy, which is never a healthy state of mind to be in. Can you think of any highly jealous people that are happy, peaceful, and content? Anyone you’d want to model your life after? Again, when we approach this sort of comparison from a state of want or feelings of scarcity, we focus on the negative side. They say when we count other people’s blessings instead of our own we’re bound to make accounting errors.

So, yes, comparisons can be bad, but they can also be good if you use them as tools.

I bet you’ve never looked at comparison as a tool before. If used properly you can use the skill of comparison to instantly boost your happiness levels and start spiraling up. You just must do it deliberately. Intentionally.

But a caution.

There’s that “used properly” part. Henry David Thoreau said, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” You must make sure you are using this tool humanely or you will open yourself up to a host of unhealthy, highly destructive thought patterns.

To use the tool properly you must follow two principles — and you must follow BOTH of them for this to work.

#1 Use the skill of deliberate comparison to spark your gratitude levels

In all of the positive psychology research coming out of Harvard, Stanford, and UC Berkley on the science of human flourishing you will invariably find references to gratitude. Grateful people are happy. Extremely grateful people are extremely happy.

What’s awesome about all of this research is that they’ve found simple interventions can trigger powerful feelings of gratitude, which will at the same time boost happiness levels. In other words, if you deliberately increase your feelings of gratitude you will naturally make yourself feel happier. No other outside resources are needed. You don’t have to get a better job or a nicer car or a newer shiny thing — you don’t need anything but time to think and be grateful.

Before I give you an example of how to deliberately spark your gratitude level through the skill or tool of comparison, let me first make sure you understand principle number two. Because if you use skill #1 without #2 this will ultimately backfire on you.

#2 Use the skill of deliberate comparison to restore your humanity

See how this is important? If you were to deliberately compare yourself to someone less fortunate than yourself you would be setting yourself up with your own achilles heel of pride, which will in the future become a vulnerable point for you. However, if you use the skill of comparison to spark your gratitude levels and then you do something about it in a way to help others, you can immediately self-start your upward spiral and at the same time avoid the pitfalls of pride and arrogance.

So here’s an example.

I can pretty much guarantee you that if you were having the worst day ever today that we could easily find someone who was having it much worse. I bet if you’ve been complaining about the slowness of the Internet or the lateness of your breakfast order or the awkwardness of your client meeting, and you were feeling stress and anxiety over how you’re going to pay your cell phone bill, and if your hair was doing that funny thing again… If you were to take your worst day and compare it to something that is going on right now for a woman and her child fleeing her country as a refugee, you would find you have absolutely nothing to complain about.

If you’re reading this article that means you’ve got access to the Internet. Which also probably means you’ve got electricity. Which also means you’ve probably got light and a way to stay warm and dry. You’ve got freedom. You can read. You’ve probably got access to clean drinking water and indoor plumbing. You probably had a decent meal today. And likely had a bed to sleep in last night. You’re not hanging onto a boat that may capsize at any minute. You’re not clutching your young daughter tight as the last human connection you’ve got. You’re not seeking refuge in another country that may or may not want or accept you.

In this light, think of everything you have, and allow that to fill you with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude is realizing you are the recipient of deliberate kindness. Whoever or whatever you give credit to as for allowing you to live where you live and in what day and age (personally I credit God for my blessings, others credit the Universe or “luck”), recognize you have received incredible conveniences not available to so many other people.

You’re so fortunate.

Incredibly fortunate.

Unbelievably fortunate.

Start comparing and contrasting every little fortunate thing in your life that you have in comparison and you will feel less inclined to whine or complain. You’ve got an amazing life in comparison. You’ve got it so good. But… and this is where you use the second skill to start spiraling up… you now realize someone else is in pain. They’re in need. And you can help.

Think about what you can do. There are so many ways to get involved. To help another. There are relief organizations and relocation camps and senators who you can join with in bringing aid. There’s always someone helping. Help them.

Compassion literally means “to suffer with” someone else. Feel their pain and do what you can to help. Now.

What just happened?

You’ve just used the skill of comparison to boost your gratitude. Then you rekindled your humanity and decided to take action. You’ve become more conscious and aware. And it all started through deliberate, intentional thought.

Take Action

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Scott Wilhite
Thrive Global

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