“Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” - Meaning Behind the Quote

Updated March 27, 2024

Has anyone ever told you that “comparison is the thief of joy”? What exactly does this mean, and who said it first?

In short, this quote reminds us that we will never be content if we are constantly pitting ourselves against other people. This means we should steer clear of comparing our lives, achievements, possessions, or other aspects to those of others if we want to be truly happy. Though the exact origin of this quote isn’t precisely clear, it’s most often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.

Let’s take a deep dive into the Stoic meaning behind this quote and the life and ideas of Teddy Roosevelt, all while exploring some great quotes from the brilliant minds of history.

“Comparison Is the Thief of Joy”-- What Does It Mean?

  • “Comparison is the thief of joy” means that we are unable to be content when we focus on what other people have or what they have accomplished. Instead of judging ourselves based on how we view other people, this phrase encourages people to appreciate their own unique circumstances and achievements.

Basically, the idea here is that true joy and contentment come from within and from appreciating what one has rather than from external comparisons. If you’ve been following Stoicism for any length of time now, you probably recognize that this is a very Stoic idea indeed!

Stoic Themes Behind the Quote

So, we’ve established that “comparison is the thief of joy” encourages us to seek inner contentment and focus on our own personal growth rather than comparing ourselves to others. Let’s take a closer look at the Stoic themes that emerge from this notion and how we can use these ideas in our day-to-day lives.

The Dichotomy of Control

One key Stoic idea in the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” is that we should focus our energy only on what is within our control and accept what is not.

The habit of comparison often involves external factors that are, ultimately, beyond our control. For example, when we fixate on others' achievements, status, or stuff, we are wasting energy thinking about things that we generally don’t have any influence over.

Our favorite Stoics would instead advise us to focus instead on our own actions, attitudes, and responses, which are within our control.

Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency

Though it might be easier said than done, one of the goals of Stoicism is to reach a state of inner tranquility– to find the strength and ability within ourselves to find contentment and happiness without relying on external circumstances.

The idea behind "comparison is the thief of joy" mirrors this principle by suggesting that joy comes from internal satisfaction and acceptance of one's life as it is, rather than from external validation or comparison with others.

For example, imagine that you are living in a little house you bought a few years ago. You could look out the window at your neighbor’s much larger house and feel bad about yourself for not having had the money to mortgage a home with a bigger footprint.

When you do this, though, you really aren’t being rational. You’re not considering all the things you do have, nor the experiences you’ve had that have brought you to where you are now. Furthermore, you’re completely ignoring any consideration of issues that your neighbor might have in their life, not to mention the potential problems that could stem from being responsible for a much larger property.

While this is a simple example, you get the point. We are in control of how we look at things. If we are able to look around us and appreciate what we have and focus on what we can control, we have a much better chance at achieving happiness.

Inner Tranquility and Contentment

We’ve touched upon this already, but it’s such an important part of this quote and Stoicism as a whole that it’s worth repeating.

seneca “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” - Meaning Behind the Quote

"It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor."

– Seneca the Younger

The ultimate goal of Stoicism is to achieve a state of tranquility where the mind is free from disturbance and turmoil. The idea is that we can reach this state by living virtuously. To the Stoics, virtue is the only good while vice is the only evil.

The act of comparison, especially when it leads to feelings of inadequacy or jealousy, disrupts the state of tranquility that Stoics are working toward. You may have heard the quote “don’t compare yourself to other people today, compare yourself to yourself yesterday.” This is a much better strategy for people that are growth oriented– all we can do is look at how we have been in the past and work to improve ourselves every day.

Living According to Nature

If you’ve ever heard anything about Stoic philosophy, you’ve likely come across the notion of “living in accordance with nature.” The idea here is that we can achieve a good life if we exist in harmony with nature and the universe.

marcus aurelius “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” - Meaning Behind the Quote

“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”

Marcus Aurelius

The notion of living in accordance with nature is actually a lot more complicated than running out to the woods and foraging for your own food. The Stoics concept of nature is multifaceted and complex– frankly, it deserves an article all on its own.

A part of living in harmony with nature, though, involves recognizing and appreciating one's unique strengths and limitations. The practice of comparing oneself unfavorably to others goes against this principle, as it ignores the natural diversity of human experiences and abilities.

Why Is Comparison the Thief of Joy?

If you’re skeptical about the point being made by this quote, stick with us as we explore all the reasons why comparing yourself to others is probably going to leave you feeling pretty bummed out.

Imperfect Perceptions

First of all, when you compare yourself to another person, there’s a good chance you are not looking through a crystal clear lens. We tend to idealize other people when we look up to them, not to mention that we pretty much never have the full story. At the same time, we look to the very worst in ourselves and pit this up against the best in others.

This is particularly a problem in the era of social media. Most people are putting a lot of energy into curating the best possible version of themselves for their profiles. This can leave us feeling inadequate even when the standards that we’re comparing ourselves to are completely unrealistic.

Neverending Cycle

If you compare yourself to someone else, you might find that it offers you a big boost of motivation to improve yourself.

On the one hand, that’s great.

On the other, though, what happens next? If you’re just going to compare yourself to someone else again, you’ll find yourself on a neverending treadmill of comparison and disappointment. Rather than getting trapped in the cycle of comparison and dissatisfaction, consider deliberately turning your attention to personal growth and the quest for inner happiness.

Dampening Your Ability to Be Happy for Others

Have you ever had a huge personal achievement, only to realize that someone you are close with actually resents you and is jealous rather than happy for you?

We’ve likely all been on both sides of this equation. Ultimately, though, we all win when we can share in each other's victories. A rising tide lifts all ships, they say, and it’s better to feel joy for others’ success rather than always being bitter and envious.

Who Said That Comparison Is the Thief of Joy?

"Comparison is the thief of joy" is most often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt. At the same time, despite its widespread attribution, the phrase does not appear in any of his known speeches or writings.

While it’s unclear whether Teddy Roosevelt was the origin point of this quote (or whether he actually technically spoke it at all,) it’s definitely not the most ridiculous potentially misattributed quote out there. After all, the sentiment of the quote definitely aligns with the types of views Roosevelt expressed regarding personal fulfillment, individual effort, and the importance of focusing on one's own life and achievements rather than being preoccupied with others.

Who Was Teddy Roosevelt?

Theodore Roosevelt (you may have heard him referred to as Teddy Roosevelt or just TR) was the 26th President of the United States, serving from 1901 to 1909. Born in NYC on October 27, 1858, he was a truly dynamic and multifaceted figure.

Well-known for his energetic personality, incredibly wide range of interests, and progressive political policies, Roosevelt had a vast legacy on the politics and national identity of the U.S. Furthermore, he was also a pioneering conservationist, establishing numerous national parks, forests, and monuments to preserve America's natural resources and beauty. If you’ve ever enjoyed the national parks across the U.S., you have TR to thank!

It would be a bit much to tell the whole life story of Teddy Roosevelt for our article but know that he was outrageously adventurous and fascinating. The Stoic philosophers remind us of the importance of having “role models,” people we can look to as examples of how we want to live and engage with life. While no historical character is perfect by any means, there is truly a lot we can learn from TR's life and style.

Was Theodore Roosevelt a Stoic?

You certainly can’t say that Teddy Roosevelt was technically a Stoic. At the same time, he exhibited a number of characteristics that one could describe as Stoic and was definitely familiar with the works of the ancient Stoics.

Let’s take a look at some of the Stoic principles that were often reflected in the actions, attitudes, and writings of Teddy Roosevelt.

Resilience and Endurance

Roosevelt overcame numerous personal challenges in his life, even just one of which would completely floor most of us mortals. He endured the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day, just to give you a sense of what we’re talking about here.

seneca the younger “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” - Meaning Behind the Quote

"We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality."

– Seneca the Younger

He also dealt with various health problems from a young age but still maintained an active and adventurous lifestyle– seriously, read about it.

Over and over again, Roosevelt exhibited a resilience that mirrors the Stoic emphasis on enduring hardship with fortitude and without complaint.

Duty and Responsibility

The Stoics talk at great length about the duty we have to the other people around us and to society as a whole. The more you learn about Roosevelt, the more you see that he held a strong sense of duty and public service.

Furthermore, he believed in the "strenuous life," a life of service and hard work for the good of the community and the nation, which reflects the Stoic idea of fulfilling one's role with honor and integrity.

Self-Control and Discipline

Teddy Roosevelt also demonstrated significant self-control and discipline, both in his personal habits and in his public life. Despite being sickly as a child, Roosevelt was known for his vigorous lifestyle and remarkably adventurous lifestyle.

Amor Fati

Another Stoic concept that we can glimpse through the personality and words of Teddy Roosevelt is that of amor fati. Latin for “love of one’s fate,” this is a concept that is often associated with both Friedrich Nietzsche and Stoicism. The idea is, simply, that we can accept and actually embrace everything that happens to us– both the good and the bad. We can truly see that everything that happens to us is, if not good, at least necessary within the larger scheme of reality.

While Roosevelt was an active and dynamic leader, he also showed an ability to accept circumstances beyond his control. He faced personal and political setbacks with a forward-looking attitude, focusing on what he could do rather than dwelling on what was beyond his control.


What do most people think of when they think of Teddy Roosevelt? It’s hard to say. Frankly, he probably doesn’t have great name recognition these days, which is only complicated by the name confusion with his relative Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

seneca the younger “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” - Meaning Behind the Quote

"Sometimes even to live is an act of courage."

Seneca the Younger

If people did know more about Teddy Roosevelt, though, probably one of the first things that would come to mind is his courage.

Remember, TR was sickly as a boy. Despite this, he went on to become a true beast of a man.

Roosevelt's approach to life and leadership was marked by courage and assertiveness. He was not afraid to take bold actions or stand up for his beliefs. If you have any doubts, by all means, check out the book The River of Doubt and let us know what you think.


Our pal Teddy Roosevelt was not only a man of action but also a man of letters. If one read a list of his accomplishments, one might be tempted to think he was some sort of brut. However, Theodore managed to be a man who excelled both physically and intellectually.

marcus aurelius “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” - Meaning Behind the Quote

"Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking."

– Marcus Aurelius

He read widely and wrote extensively, reflecting on issues of personal and public concern. This practice of reflection aligns with the Stoic habit of self-examination and contemplation of one's thoughts and actions.


Despite his reputation for being a larger-than-life type of guy, Roosevelt understood the value of moderation—a core Stoic virtue. He advocated for balanced policies, the middle ground in political disputes, and a measured approach to personal and national issues.

Stoic Quotes About Comparing Yourself to Other People

Before we look at some more quotes from Teddy Roosevelt, let's explore a few from our favorite Stoics that remind us how we can best relate to other people.

“Ignorant people see life as either existence or non-existence, but wise men see it beyond both existence and non-existence to something that transcends them both; this is an observation of the Middle Way.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“The wise man will not pardon any crime that ought to be punished, but he will accomplish, in a nobler way, all that is sought in pardoning. He will spare some and watch over some, because of their youth, and others on account of their ignorance. His clemency will not fall short of justice, but will fulfill it perfectly.”

– Seneca the Younger

Teddy Roosevelt Quotes About Resilience and Endurance

Need a little help pushing through a hard time? Spent a few moments with each of the following TR quotes to encourage you to keep on keeping on.

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Believe you can and you're halfway there." 

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground."

– Theodore Roosevelt

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything."

– Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt Quotes About Duty and Responsibility

Picking up responsibility isn't the easiest thing in the world, but a life of duty is much more likely to be a fulfilling one than a life of rest and ease.

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight."

 – Theodore Roosevelt

"Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it."

– Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"This country will not permanently be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." 

– Theodore Roosevelt

"To educate a person in the mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society." 

– Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt Quotes About Self-Control and Discipline

In this day and age, it's easy to just try and be as comfortable as possible and take on as little responsibility as possible. However, the Stoics new that the best way to actually make ourselves happy is to practice discipline and self-control.

Teddy Roosevelt knew this truth, too. Let's take a look at some of his most powerful quotes about living a life of discipline.

"I am a part of everything that I have read."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"With self-discipline, most anything is possible."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats."

– Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt Quotes About Accepting and Embracing Fate

Though Roosevelt didn't talk about fate directly the way the Stoics might, the concepts hidden within the notion of amor fati certainly make themselves known in his speeches and writings.

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Life is a great adventure, and I want to say to you, accept it in such a spirit."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"I am only an average man but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."

– Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt Quotes About Courage

Looking for a bit of encouragement as you take on some of life's more intimidating challenges? Teddy Roosevelt is a good person to turn to, as he exemplified the Stoic virtue of courage.

"Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don't have the strength."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard!"

– Theodore Roosevelt

"There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to 'mean' horses and gunfighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid, I gradually ceased to be afraid."

– Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt Quotes About Self-Reflection

Roosevelt was just as much a scholar as he was an adventurer. Here are some of his best quotes about being self-reflective and self-aware.

"It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready to take advantage of them."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Knowing what's right doesn't mean much unless you do what's right."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike."

– Theodore Roosevelt

More Powerful Teddy Roosevelt Quotes

Finally, let's finish off with more quotes from TR that we can use to help us live a virtuous life.

“What a man does for himself, dies with him. What a man does for his community lives long after he's gone.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“This country has nothing to fear from the crooked man who fails. We put him in jail. It is the crooked man who succeeds who is a threat to this country.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“Do Something Now. If not you, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“Most of us tiptoe through life in order to make it safely to death.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“The worst lesson that can be taught to a man is to rely upon others and to whine over his sufferings.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Stoicism For a Better Life

It’s always been easy to feel bad about ourselves when we see how we measure up against others. The quote “comparison is the thief of joy,” however, may be particularly pertinent in our modern age, where social media constantly berrades us with people we can’t help but feel inferior to.

The truth is, though, you can help this feeling. Rather than comparing yourself to the other people in your life and those you only see through screens, consider turning your energy towards the things you actually have control over in your life. When you look at what other people have that you don’t have, you’re really going to struggle to find peace and tranquility in your life.

Are you trying to use stoicism to improve your life? Make sure you check out the rest of our Stoic quotes blog for more articles, philosophical musings, and inspirational quotes!

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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