A growing body of research (mine own included) in various social sciences finds that people report higher happiness levels when they do better than the people around them. How well you do matters, but how well you do relative to your friends and neighbors does, too. Think of the student who feels bad about getting a 50% on the exam until she learns that the average was 20%.
It seems clear that some comparing is insidious and sinful. Coveting, for example, is prohibited by the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:17). Yet, not all comparing is so insidious. Because the mind is an information processing machine, it craves information, and learning othersâ€™ achievement levels provides the mind with potentially useful information about the external environment. The student who learns that the class average was 20% still knows that she has much room to improve, but she now also knows that the test was extremely difficult. This new understanding can potentially aid her in her continued studies. In short, observing others provides the mind with information about what is a good or appropriate achievement that can then, in turn, be used to accomplish other ends. This is why some claim that our brain is hard-wired to make such comparisons.
I think there is a proper place in the Gospel for making comparisons. Knowing that â€œall have sinned, and come short of the glory of Godâ€? (Rom 3: 23) can help a sinner understand the importance of the Atonement and that forgiveness is possible. But any comparisons beyond this are sinful. That we are hard-wired to make comparisons does not excuse us from making them. It may help us understand the difficulty in overcoming the sin and help us sympathize with others facing the same problem, but it does not excuse us for the sin itself. Part of this life is overcoming the natural (wo)man,
When do you think it is wrong to make comparisons? When is a comparison sinful, and when is it not sinful? If you are hard-wired to make such comparisons, to what extent can we overcome the practice of comparing?