Social comparison is one of the most insidious and destructive games we can play, and nearly always leads to a decrease in mood. It is the practice of looking at the lives of others from the outside, via social media, TV, or within our social circles, and assuming those people either have it easier or have more than we do.
Ironically, where one person may seem to have abundance you can assume that in other ways they have what we would perceive as lack. If we could see behind the closed doors of our friends, the mom’s at the school gate that we look up to, and the guy who has the bigger office next to us, we would know that we are all the same. We all struggle. We all hurt. She may seem like she has the perfect house and lifestyle but she may also be extremely lonely in her marriage. He may take home a bigger paycheque but also suffer with depression and imposter syndrome.
The Highlight Reel
What is this obsession with social comparison and showing the rest of the world we have our shit together? We post beautiful pictures at the fancy ski resort and rarely let the world see the other side of our highlight reel. Life is a rollercoaster; when one person is up, another is down, but we all get many opportunities for both.
Knowing that suffering is universal and that the social media highlight reel is only one side of the story, is essential to having a real perspective on the people around us. Comparisons get us nowhere. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.”
Of course comparison doesn’t only happen via social media; the internet has just heightened our ability to see into the lives of others. But if we could see the whole picture rather than a small piece, perhaps we wouldn’t feel so lacking in our own lives.
The Antidote to Social Comparison
Have you fallen into the social comparison trap? If you spend a lot of time on social media you may not realize how pervasive this is in your life. Note your emotions after scrolling through a feed. Does it make you feel envious, sad, frustrated? If so, you are likely comparing without realizing it.
Follow these five simple tips to avoid the comparison trap and you will soon be feeling a lot better about what you have and how you live your life:
1. Get Real About Social Media
The next time you scroll through Facebook or Instagram tell yourself you are only seeing one side of the story. It’s also important to evaluate who you follow and what they post; could you follow some people who provide a more balanced perspective of their life?
2. Shift the Comparison to Those With Less.
Why is it that when we compare, it’s to people who seem to have more than us? A better job, car, body, house…the list goes on. But what about those who have less? For those of us who live in the western hemisphere, most of us have more than a good majority of people in the world. If we must compare, let’s try switching to a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity.
3. If You Must Compare, Compare your Own Progress
I’m not a big fan of comparison in general but it can be healthy and empowering to focus on our success in comparison to a previous time in our lives. For example, how am I doing compared to five or ten years ago? Am I moving forward or standing still? If I am standing still, what can I do to change that?
4. Practice gratitude for your life as it is
These last two pointers are from my perspective the most important things we can do to feel abundant and content with life exactly as it is today. The first is to practice gratitude. No doubt you are used to hearing this advice, but have you tried keeping a gratitude journal? At a low point in my life I would write down five things every morning I was grateful for, and they had to be different every day. They ranged from the sunshine peeking through the blinds to the tea in my cup, to the roof over my head. It was an interesting challenge to switch it up daily and be forced to expand my perspective around everything I had to be grateful for.
5. Practice self-love and compassion
Perhaps one of the most challenging things I work on with my clients is the practice of self-love and compassion. When we compare ourselves to others it is because we see inadequacy in ourselves. If we are content with who we are, we don’t see something more or better in someone else, we simply celebrate that person and appreciate them. Ultimately, the key to social comparison is loving acceptance of who we are and what we have.
What has been your experience with social comparison? Have you found it to be closely tied with your social media use? Share in the comments!