Beware When You Compare – The Pitfalls of “Social Comparison”

 In Better Life, Focusing on the positive, Negative emotions

I’m grateful to have so much abundance and goodness in my life. When I think about all that I have with my family, home, career, health, etc., I feel great joy and peace.

Unless I look at my husband’s pickup. It’s getting rusty. Not just a few small spots, but several areas. And they’re growing. It still drives and runs good, but it’s starting to look a little rough at 18 years old. I see so many nice pickups on the road and in parking lots. As I compare them to what we have, these shiny, nicer vehicles make me feel envious. Maybe my life isn’t so good after all?

“Social Comparison” is a term used in psychology to describe our tendency to compare areas of our life (money, looks, belongings, resources, abilities, etc.) to others. We then make judgments about the quality of our life based on what we notice. We now have more opportunities than ever for “social comparison” with the influx of social media, reality TV, and other digital channels.

What’s the impact? If we “compare up” to others that seem to have more than us, we may feel dissatisfied with our life. If we “compare down” to people that seem worse off, it may make us feel better. There is also the risk of feeling superior or smug depending on who the other person is.

What can we do? Here are some suggestions. First, be aware of this phenomenon. Some people have a tendency to do social comparison more than others. If you catch yourself feeling bad because you’re “comparing up,” shift your thoughts to all that you do have. Remind yourself to be happy for the situation of others who appear to be better off than you. Realize that nobody’s life is perfect, and you may not know what troubles they have behind the scenes. The grass may not actually be “greener” on the other side.

If you find yourself “comparing down,” remind yourself to feel compassion but not pity or smugness. Use it as a way to appreciate all the good in your life. Consider ways you might be able to help.

A more helpful comparison is when we consider our current personal growth and improved wisdom to where we were, and use it to motivate us to where we want to be.

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