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We live in a puzzling time. Technology can be great (this is an online magazine, after all) and we can share the gospel here. But waaay too many of us see the gorgeous images our friends post on social media, and feel we are missing out. Everyone’s having greater success. They’re eating better food. They’re having a better time. They’re going on better vacations. They’re even taking better pictures of their better children with their better cell phones. You can do this until the cows come home, and then you can feel bad that they have more cows than you do.
I’ve written before about how easy it is to compare ourselves to others, and come out on the short end. And we can’t fault people for wanting to share their joys—their weddings, their graduations, their children’s births. But too often we see these and experience one of the seven deadly sins: Envy.
Experts have warned us not to do this. They’ve told us we’re not seeing the whole picture, that everyone has tribulation; they’re just not posting it. We’re getting a skewed view. And we all know this. But if we don’t know how to swim in those waters, it can still lead to depression, resentment, even anger and a bit of delight when misfortunes finally arrive on that picture-perfect porch of someone else’s.
One of the worst outcomes is one we don’t often consider: Whenever we fall prey to jealous feelings, we’ve stopped feeling grateful. I believe that gratitude and happiness are the same thing. So when we do something that blocks feelings of thankfulness, we are blocking our joy and happiness in life. When you’re scrolling through posts and you notice you’re not feeling upbeat and contented, pay attention to that. Know who’s cheering– it’s the adversary, not the Savior. You cannot feel sorry for yourself and feel inner contentment at the same time.
President Brigham Young once said, “I do not know of any, excepting the unpardonable sin, that is greater than the sin of ingratitude.” When we slip into the mire of self-pity we fail to acknowledge the many blessings God has given us. We ignore the mountain of good because we’re focused on the pebble of bad.
Blocking our own happiness has to be one of the most foolish activities we can engage in. And every time we feel a pang of jealousy because someone has something we don’t, we keep ourselves from the joy God wants us to have in this life.
I’m not saying we should be blind to our trials. Certainly life offers challenges that teach us and refine us. But it also has glories and peaks of wonder that should keep us in a constant state of humble appreciation. Sometimes it’s the heart-stopping beauty of nature. Maybe it’s the kind word someone gave you, or the opportunity you had to do the same. Certainly when we ponder the superlative gift of Eternal Life, the sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ, we cannot deny how far the scales tip in our favor.
Think about the people in the great and spacious building who mock those who are trying to remain obedient and stalwart. What makes some fall away? Comparisons. Worries about fitting in, or being accepted by a certain crowd. It’s like glancing over at the social media of ancient times.
Here are some ways to avoid this terrible trap. First, focus upon God’s opinion of you. Elder J. Devn Cornish once said, “If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future. The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us. Please sincerely ask Him what He thinks of you. He will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.”
Next, we need to be honest with ourselves about the impact social media has on us. As we see images and reports of the joys and success others are having, do we truly celebrate along with them? If so, great. But if you catch yourself sighing, frowning, or even tearing up, close your eyes and resolve to do one of two things: 1) Get back to real life and stop torturing yourself, or 2) see if you can be genuinely happy for that person. If you can truly rejoice along with them, wonderful.
Analyze your reactions to what you’re seeing. Does it inspire you and motivate you to do better? Often it can, and that’s good. But if it just discourages you, see it for the tool of Satan that it has become in your case, and turn it off.
Next, keep a gratitude journal. When we look for the good, we find it. People who take a few minutes every day to count their blessings are usually surprised by how many they begin to notice.
Last, remember that God gives every one of us strengths and talents that differ from those around us. If someone else just ran a marathon, fantastic! Maybe they wish they could speak Spanish as well as you do. Or teach a lesson like you do. Or sing like you. Or be as organized as you are. The list could be endless, of ways you shine in a different area. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin once said, “The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony.”
Just as Pinocchio was hoodwinked into a dangerous visit to Pleasure Island, so we are signing up for a trip to Displeasure Island when we cave in to the temptation to compare ourselves to others. It won’t bring us confidence, satisfaction, or progress. Worst of all, it will prevent our seeing how blessed we actually are, and we’ll miss the abundant happiness that can otherwise fill our lives.
I say we give our friends a standing ovation for their achievements, and then sit down and appreciate our own. We can be happy for them and happy for ourselves.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is destined to become a Christmas classic. This tale, for any reader of any faith, teaches us all the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.