"Comparison is the thief of joy" - President Theodore Roosevelt.
Have you heard this before? Or, if you haven't, can you relate to it? Particularly in the age of social media we are constantly exposed to what others are doing whether that be in their careers, their personal relationships, exercise regime, weight loss journey, or their home interior to name a few. If you feel like this, you're not alone: a 2015 study found that 75% of adults experience envy towards others (1). Yet the effect of this is that we're left feeling anxious, downtrodden and lacking in self esteem. So why do we do it?
To some degree, comparison has become a natural part of our brain function; psychologists have employed the social comparison theory to explain it. Ultimately, the social comparison theory suggests that one of the key ways in which people make judgements about themselves is through social comparison (2). Social comparison occurs in two ways: upward social comparison and downward social comparison. The former is when we compare ourselves to others who we perceive to be better at something than we are. We can either use this as motivation to improve or, more often than not, this is when we make ourselves feel bad. What often follows this is downward social comparison, where we compare ourselves to those who we consider to be 'worse' at something than we are. This might be an attempt to make us feel better following upward social comparison. In some situations, upward comparison can be beneficial, for example in competitive sport when we aspire to improve performance. However, in the majority of situations, upward comparison only bears negative consequences. We might compare ourself to someone in completely different circumstances to ourselves, or make assumptions about their life based on something they posted on Instagram. It's easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of comparison whether that be using social media, in the workplace or with friends.
Social comparison is more common than we think and can manifest itself in different ways. It's not just thinking "I'm not as pretty as she is" or "she's able to lift much heavier weights than I can", it could be "if I had that sort of money, I could do that" or "if I'd kept playing rugby I would've been playing at that club too". Ultimately there will always be someone we can compare ourselves to, someone who is further along in their journey than we are or closer to our goals than we are. Hence, if we continue to let our lives be driven by comparison, then we will only continue to saturate our ability to be happy and enjoy the journey to wherever we're headed.
How to stop comparing yourself - and your life - to others.
1. Remember how far you've come and what you've got.
Don't forget where you started and the progress you've made. You're starting point was probably a completely different place to anyone around you. What's more, their means to getting there will never be the same as yours. And, would you want their life and the things they have? They might not have the same loving relationship as you or the fulfilling job that you enjoy going to, despite having your "dream home" or the "ideal body".
2. Practice gratitude.
Every single day, remember to be grateful for what you do have. Whether that's writing down a list of 3-5 things your grateful for everyday, saying them aloud or having a conversation with the kids about what you're all grateful for.
3. Reduce your screen time.
Stop scrolling through Instagram in the evenings or cut flicking through people's Facebook photos before the school run. Replace screen time - the frequent source of comparison - with a walk, reading a new book or spending time with family/friends.
4. Focus on your own self-development rather than setting your goals to be getting to where someone else is.
Don't determine your goals in life by what someone else is doing. Consider where you're at and decide what's achievable for you, with the constraints you have. Saying that you want to be or look like somebody else is often far beyond achievable when we consider that they won't be progressing under the same limitations that you might experience. For example, they might not have the same time-consuming job as you, might not have to pick the kids up from school everyday, might be able to afford a cleaner 3 days a week... the list is endless!
5. Remember that social media is just a highlight reel of other people's lives.
You might compare yourself to someone through social media. We're all guilty of saying "I wish I looked like..." or "I wish I had that persons life". But when we consider that we only see 2 minutes of their day, would we want the other 23 hours and 58 minutes? This comes back to being grateful for what we have.
6. Have a social media cleanse.
Everyone has followed someone on IG because their friend follows them or they saw them on Love Island or they went to secondary school with them. Go through your friends/followers on social media and ask: does seeing this person's feed bring me happiness, or make me feel bad about myself? If it's the latter, then hit that unfollow button!