13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Luke 12:13-21
There is a new area of study in psychology and sociology called the “Social Comparison Theory” or “Obsessive Comparison Disorder.” This can be defined as our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us to depression, consumption, anxiety and all-around joyous discontent. This plaque of comparison has become so widespread that there are scientists and sociologist spending time trying to find cures for our new paths of dissatisfaction with our lives.
There was a time when our problems with comparison were more blatant, such as seeing out neighbor’s new car, seeing how much nicer our friend’s house is than our own, wishing our job made as much money as our acquaintance is making. We are still not immune to comparisons like this, but for us, in this time, it’s more than that, and in some ways it can be subtler. We are jealous of the person who is live tweeting the concert we really wanted to go to. Our friends’ Facebook posts are mostly saying things like, “I’m too blessed to be depressed.” On Instagram we only see pictures from beautiful people, in beautiful places, having beautiful adventures. We become envious of their lives, we get depressed about our own lives, and so we find ways to overcompensate. We collect debt as we buy more, buy better, and buy bigger. Then we have to find ways to build bigger barns to make sure that as we collect more stuff we have a place to show it and prove that our lives are better as well. We build bigger barns by having better posts on social media that are more meaningful or are funnier, and we have to spend hours every day watching our social media feed to make sure that those we follow are not then one-upping us with bigger barns of their own. And there the cycle continues: we compare, we exaggerate, others see us, compare, exaggerate, and then we return the favor (or disfavor).
Over the last few years, while the problem with comparison has been growing, there has also been a growing movement of the purchase of “tiny houses.” I feel like most people who are purchasing a 400 square foot houses are actively rebelling against our world of comparison. They are finding a way to start wanting less and getting more from life.
A minister was sharing of how his surroundings and environment really matted to him. He was asking Father Larry Gillick, a blind Jesuit, if that mattered to him as much being that he is blind. His response was, “I’ve just found that if you love yourself, you love anywhere you are.”
How can we begin to love ourselves better? Stop building bigger barns. Turn off your Facebook notifications, close your browser, and spend an extra moment thanking God for life. We will begin to find less need for bigger barns.