Comparison is the thief of happiness. Laura Williams
Courtesy of Brene Brown
I truly believe when I was a little kid, I didn’t compare. I was fascinated in what others had and did but I didn’t feel inclined to use it as a yardstick. I lived a simple life of eating Marmite off teaspoons and travelling to school in a converted old ambulance. We had a record player in the living room and the ham radio antenna in the garden. If my Scottish Country Dance lesson was cancelled, we went to the beach together as a class. There was no mall to rush off to instead. Mum did her Jane Fonda workouts to a tape because we didn’t need a TV and, later, the simple computer games we played were written by my dad to teach us something.
It never occurred to me to measure amounts of possessions. In Bangladesh, a little understanding of the Western world crept in. I remember one of my ballet costumes causing mum stress because it had to look as good as all the others. Yet still the only current magazines I saw were National Geographics, so my gaze remained on the world and its people. We were an international school and I attended in hand-me-downs from my sister and sometimes clothes my mum made. I coveted my pink exam ballet shoes as an amazing luxury because they meant I’d achieved something. We made our own bread to avoid the sugar-heavy local version and celebrated when ants didn’t get to our dinner. And my life was rich.
When I arrived in the UK, I struggled to understand all the currencies I had to be fluent in. There were sports hierarchies, academic hierarchies, coolness ones and popularity ones. There were words to use and those to avoid. Niceness was undervalued and fashion overrated. Non-uniform days were huge causes of anxiety to me whilst my parents tried to maintain the same values as before and I was compelled to move with the times. I swotted up on chart music and never wore clothes twice if they generated comments. I used to hide in the enclaves of my friend’s market stall to study how people constructed themselves in relation to their populous. I was unhappy and slowly ebbing away.
When I realised I was as uncomfortable fitting in as I was being distinct, I channeled my funds to help others. I gifted guitars to friends and clothed others. I fitted in vicariously through them, the cooler, the more confident than me. And I soaked up their styles as it suited.
It’s an insidious cycle – this fitting in business. It’s trying to be the same and yet out do. It’s the flashing of team colours whilst trying to be the leader. It’s about unity but one upmanship. It’s about belonging but pushing beyond the connections. No wonder we’re all so confused about how to befriend others, comfort those who struggle and not judge that which we don’t understand.
We have to start little but we have to start. My start was to leave the house without make up. That doesn’t make me proud, but it’s true. Then it was being able to leave the house without ridiculously scaffolded underwear. Now, years on, it’s okay to have one TV and it not be bigger than 50″. It’s okay to link arms with a friend in the street and to smile at a stranger. It’s okay to not speak small talk with everyone and to be daft sometimes. It’s okay to leave work on time. It’s okay that I don’t cook every night. It’s okay that I, as a woman, don’t want to drift around shops of a weekend. It’s okay that, as a marketeer, I don’t want to finish each week with alcohol.
Slowly but surely I catch glimpses of a simple life that people told me belongs to children, but I’m not so sure. There is a silence when you phase the other voices out. There’s an affluence when you stop judging in terms of potential lack. There’s a calm when you’re not caught in contradictory admiration of someone else. And there’s a peace when you’re allowed to exist in your own skin and soul, to nurture yourself to be. One day, I’ll be there and I’ll love my childhood self for showing me the way to happiness as an adult.