Many species on planet earth have certain genetic hardwired behaviours that are passed on to new generations. Geese imprint at birth with the first living thing they see, assuming their first contact immediately after their birth to be mother. Humans have hardwired behaviour as well, known as comparative thinking.
People often measure their sense of success and self worth by comparing what they have or what they have achieved with what someone else has or has achieved. The nature of comparative thinking is something that human beings cannot escape. It is in our blood, so to speak, via genetics. While you cannot avoid making comparisons, what you compare as a human being can be changed. Learning to make constructive comparisons instead of comparison born of envy or other negative thinking can really make a shocking difference.
I took my daughter out for a walk yesterday, I take her out every day at least once and on that day she chose to ride in her wagon around the neighbourhood with her daddy pulling her along. It is important for her to get out and use up some energy. She, like her father, is diagnosed as being a child with autism. We walked through a wealthy neighbourhood that is populated with mansions and at one such mansion, one my daughter and I often pass on such walks, my daughter discovered a puddle that simply had to be jumped in, to be fully appreciated.
It was quite the scene. My daughter leaned against a B.M.W. parked on the roadside out front of a massive mansion that had a huge pool in its yard. The homeowner and family were using the pool and the lawn was well manicured by a landscaping service. Here I was, the son of a dysfunctional family, raised in brutal poverty and violence by alcoholic parents, standing outside on a peaceful sunny day while my daughter played in a puddle.
Happiness in the situation I describe is a matter of perspective and comparison. Were I an envious or jaded sort of man I might have thought about how poor I am in comparison to the family playing joyfully in their massive home. I might have thought about their beautiful estate and the privileges that they likely enjoy. I might have cursed them for hoarding while I had so little. Thankfully I am not the envious type.
I can’t escape comparative thinking anymore than the next guy. What I choose to compare can be controlled though.
Watching my daughter smile in her puddle as she soaked through her shoes, I was taken aback at how far I had come. As a child I raised my siblings in the absence of my parents as they drank away our grocery money. I often chopped firewood for our woodstove lest the fire die and my siblings and I freeze to death during Canadian winters. I hunted food when the food bank couldn’t help me feed my siblings. Several of the rental units my family squatted in had no indoor bathroom.
Yet here I was living in a rental house of my own for several consecutive years with plenty of interests available to pursue, books to read and enjoy, internet and plenty of food. Clean water runs from my tap and my daughter is healthy and has never been witness to or involved in any violence. I have never hit her, compared to my own parents that brutally abused my siblings and I, and one day the truth of my family lineage being seven generations removed from barely surviving genocide will be a story for my daughter to reflect on, not a lived reality.
Looking back on my own childhood it is shockingly clear that being a man with autism is the reason I survived. I have an unusually high level of intelligence that translated to early self-sufficiency. I saved my siblings lives and my own. I am hyposensitive and thusly have a high threshold for pain. I fell through the ice hunting some seasons and survived. I fought and bled to protect my siblings and continued to progress to present day only to recover from P.T.S.D. Then I become the father I wished I’d had to my own daughter. Largely because of the benefits that autism presented, the same autism I passed onto my daughter with pride.
I wept watching her play in that puddle on the street. I felt like such a success. I felt like a success because of where I had come from. I compared my current successes to my past adversities instead of comparing my current successes to the success of the wealthy family in the mansion that likely has no idea someone like me even exists, much less lives around the corner.
Compare yourself to the version of yourself from yesterday if you want to find purpose and evidence of improvement, such things can greatly contribute to ones happiness. Comparing oneself to others can only lead to a constant state of dissatisfaction and temporary happiness. The trick isn’t in escaping comparative thinking, the trick is controlling what you choose to compare.
I know I do, and I come by the habit naturally, it serves me well. I can celebrate having a toilet because I didn’t have one for periods of my childhood. I know it may seem like I set the bar too low. Maybe I just see things more clearly after a hard life. Either way one thing is clear, I think differently and make different comparisons. I guess that comes with life on the spectrum.
I’ll be proud that I am a man with autism every time my daughter laughs and flaps her arms. One day I hope to instil in her to the same sense of pride and accomplishment, by comparing herself to her past self instead of comparing herself to others. She might come by such a habit honestly herself because she is on the spectrum, just like her father.