23 Jun They say comparison is the thief of joy……
Do you ever find yourself looking at someone else’s social media posts and feeling depressed? You know, those times where it seems that everyone in the world has cracked it except you, with photographs to prove it? I admit there have been occasions when I felt like that. I’m thankful such accounts weren’t around in my teenage years, otherwise I would have faced even more crippling self-doubt!
Still, according to social comparison theory, we have a natural drive to compare ourselves with others. We do so in order to gain a better self-evaluation.
We’re not alone in this – animals do it too, especially those who live in groups. They size each other up to determine their position in the hierarchy, based on physical characteristics, strength and reproductive potential. It’s all about survival and perpetuating their genes, as it was for our own early hunter-gatherer ancestors too.
However, in today’s world of screens and media, that natural tendency for comparison can get out of hand. We constantly see images of other people’s seemingly perfect lives, bodies, careers, families, relationships and accomplishments. And it’s all too easy to forget that what we’re viewing are mostly the edited highlights, the show reel, window dressing. So we often end up comparing the polished digital life stories of others with how we judge our own reality.
Now, if we’re having a good day, we might be able to put this into perspective. But if we’re feeling low, then such lop-sided comparison can really amplify any negative thoughts we have about ourselves and our lives. It can leave us with a sense of failure, of being less than we really are.
Then there’s the kind of downward comparison where we try to make less of someone else in order to feel better about ourselves. Criticizing a colleague’s performance at work, another person’s success or appearance might temporarily make our own situation a little easier to bear. But if we’re honest, it feels uncomfortable and mean-spirited. Frankly, any relief is fleeting too.
Imagine how much more empowering it is if we can view another person’s achievements as encouragement that we too can accomplish our goals!
To compare our own progress with anyone else is like comparing a rose with a sunflower. One is not better than the other; they’re just different. And every flower blooms at a different pace.
So perhaps a healthier comparison to make is between the person you are today and how you want to be tomorrow. This helps to focus your energy and attention on creating a life that makes you happy. Because you are unique and that’s what makes you special.