Social Comparison

Is Social Comparison challenging your self worth?

It seems that the longer I live, the more I understand just how similar we all are. It makes me wonder why so many of us spend time and energy focused on our differences. Or why we concern ourselves with what others are doing. If we pause for a second or two, it doesn’t take much to know that our societal fascination with comparing someone else’s life to ours does not contribute to our wellbeing or does it?

What is the net outcome of our fascination with comparing our lives to others?

The subject of comparison came up during a recent hike with a new friend. He was telling me that every time he opens Facebook he sees’s someone else’s idyllic life. The big house, happy family, a successful career and wonderful vacations. He lamented that picture after picture it appeared that life was perfect for them, but not for him.

I listened.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I read my newsfeed differently. Every day I read posts that are representative of life – heartbreak, love, success, failure, ignorance, intelligence, win, loss, fear, courage, life, sickness, and death.

Is my Facebook feed that different? Or am I simply looking through a different lens?

I believe the answer is that I am looking through a different lens. But that wasn’t always the case. Not that long ago, I remember viewing others as he does now. And like him, I found myself feeling worse, not happier or better.

It’s true, most people tend to post more positive and favorable than negative things on social media. I’m pretty sure I do too. Sharing the positive events in our lives helps us to intensify and prolong the event. It contributes to our levels of life satisfaction and happiness. When I read those types of posts, I now understand that. And I do my best to respond and support others to enhance their lives because I truly believe we all could use more positive reinforcement.

Scientists and researchers have been studying the comparison phenomenon for years, and in this context they even have a name for it “Social Comparison.”

What is the Social Comparison Theory?

“Social comparison theory states that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of domains (for example, attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success).” Psychology Today

This is obviously a rough summary of The Social Comparison Theory. It is not accurate or complete, but it’s enough to give you a clear idea that comparison is a lens, that many of us use, in an attempt to better understand our self. But does it contribute to your knowing who you are? And does it contribute to your self-worth?

Today, we have come to realize that it is imperative to question our thinking process. Our minds and the way they process information contain many flaws and foibles. Questioning is at the heart of our own empowerment. It is the only way that we can keep the whirlwind of automatic and negative thoughts at bay.

We all know that when we think small, we act small. In order to live life fully we must align our beliefs about our self with what we are truly capable of, not what others can or cannot do.

In the past, I was more like my friend. I constantly compared my body, my life and possession to others. It’s horribly embarrassing to admit, but it’s my truth. Looking back, I had convinced myself that these thoughts kept me on “my edge” – motivating me to become and have more. But it wasn’t an accurate method of self-assessment. Nor was it a way to evaluate a quality life. And even worse, it didn’t motivate me. In the end, those thought habits were more destructive than helpful. More times than not, I ended up feeling less – not empowered.

Evaluating them versus me did not make me better, stronger, and happier. Instead, I often got caught in comparing myself to those who had already arrived at the top of the rung. I then was overwhelmed by the steps that it would take for me to get “there.” It made the possible, seem impossible. This was a huge miss use of perception.

Common sense tells us that the idea of measuring your worth against others is not relatable. How can it be? After all, no two people walk the same path or in the same set of circumstances. Just the same, that doesn’t keep us from getting sucked into comparison. I know I am not alone. Comparison is everywhere. All you have to do is turn on the TV, listen to the radio or open a magazine … good versus bad, right versus wrong, or better, faster, stronger, and worse, slow, weak. Is this intelligence? Is this growth? Is this subjugation? Or is it just plain old marketing?

In the end, I realized that I didn’t need to compare myself to others to keep me on my edge or achieve my goals. I learned that the momentary feeling that accompanied the perception of being somehow “better” (social comparison by looking downward) was just a temporary illusion. It did very little to shore up my sense of worth. And like its counterpart, comparing myself to others that appeared above me (social comparison upward) didn’t motivate me at all. The results are net zero. It was just another one of life’s distractions that kept me from living the life I could live if only I were being true to my self.

I often refer to Bonnie Ware’s list of the top 5 regrets of the dying. For me, it is a constant reminder of what mistakes I do not want to make. “Not having the courage to live a life true to myself ” is the number one regret on her list.

How can I be true to myself if I am constantly comparing me to the infinite variables that is inherent in others? I’ve learned that in order to know me, all I need to do is turn inward and listen. And the same goes for you too. Inside you is a pulse of inspiration that knows what is true for you. It knows your dreams, desires, capabilities and your destiny. It doesn’t care about other people’s preferences, it is that part of you that is always reaching for experience. And after all, isn’t experience what life is truly about?

According to Joseph Campbell, you must follow your bliss. “Bliss from the deep sense of being in it and doing what the push is of your own existence.” This is what you need to know to understand who you are and what you are here to do. “Follow that and doors will open where you never thought there were going to be doors and where there wouldn’t be a door for anybody else.” I am following mine, and I hope you follow yours.

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