It happens to me often, and usually unconsciously. I'll learn about an old colleague or classmate who just bought a house or got a new promotion — and immediately, I'll begin to compare my life with theirs.
In the early 1950s, social psychologist Leon Festinger sought to better understand this innate need that humans have to compare themselves with others. Festinger found that our “comparison-targets” are most often people in our orbits or close to us in age, career, or background. Our comparison typically falls into two categories:
Upward Comparison is when we compare ourselves to someone in a perceived “higher” position when it comes to status, wealth, education, ability, or relationships. This might spark motivation (“My classmate got an A on the test, so I will study harder next time”) but it can also fuel jealousy (“It’s not fair that my brother gets to go on so many amazing vacations each year and I don’t”).
Downward Comparison is when we compare ourselves to someone in a perceived “lower” position. We might do this to boost our self-esteem (“I’ve switched jobs three times and he is still doing the same thing”) or realize how fortunate we are (“Things could be worse!”). It can even encourage complacency (“I’m not doing as badly as my coworker, so I don’t need to try harder”).
It’s enough that humans have a tendency for these types of comparisons. But social media takes it to the next level.
Not only are we being exposed to so many more of our peers, but we are also getting a very narrow and highly curated view of their lives. We are flooding our brains with aspirational highlights and filtered pictures of perfection… and from this limited view, we are making assumptions about people — how happy they are, how much money they have, what their relationships are like. All of this comparison often leaves us feeling worse about ourselves, wanting more of what others seem to have effortlessly.
So what can we do about it?
Here are four ideas:
Identify your values. Sometimes when we get caught in the comparison trap, we lose sight of what’s actually important to us. Don’t let societal ideas of success and happiness lead you astray. Our Integrity Guide can help you identify the values most important to you.
Practice gratitude. When we take time to appreciate what we have, where we are, and the goodness in our lives, the comparison trap is weakened. Gratitude offers us perspective and reminds us of all the truly wonderful things about our lives as they are. This month’s Gratitude Guide and Resources are a great place to start!
Hack your Facebook feed. Mike and I have both installed a Google Chrome extension called the News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. It’s free and it does just what the name implies. It gives you full access to notifications, messages, profiles and groups — but it blocks the endless newsfeed from appearing and sucking hours and energy from our day! (We are not affiliated with this app in any way, we just find it useful :-)
Compare yourself to yourself. Define success on your terms, set your own goals, and measure progress against where you’ve been and where you want to go. Our Welcome Guide and Intention Guide have some great resources to help with this.
Begin your day feeling grounded and inspired.
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