According to the Psychology Today publication, up to 10% of our thoughts are directed towards comparing ourselves and others. We compare ourselves in areas such as attractiveness, wealth, intelligence or success. The theory of social comparison was developed by psychiatrist Leon Festinger in 1954. Hundreds of studies have been conducted since then, and they all show that we compare ourselves in a desire to improve our lives. However, it often has the opposite effect: if we compare ourselves, we run the risk of feeling dissatisfied, guilty and remorseful. It can even lead people to engage in destructive behaviour. And from an ecological point of view, this can lead to an increase in the consumption of goods.
The perfect fake living environment
You don’t even have to be a specialist to know that social networks such as Facebook and Instagram accentuate the negative sides of the comparison. These types of sites and the “perfect photos” they refer to are “stops on images ” that make us forget to look at the big picture. Instead, we focus only on the details of the photo. Before the Internet era, we compared ourselves to people in our close circle. Very often we knew a lot more about their lives than we do today. We knew when they were successful, but we also knew when they had their little problems. They were just “human”. Now, we only have access to happy “frames” and photos that document our “success stories”. On top of that, the very positive American culture prevents us, in personal contact, from admitting that there are dark spots in our lives. So, not only do we have access to an idealized image, but there is also a forced positive narrative that follows it. Thus, the only way to feel better is to create a picture comparable to the images we see.
Resources depleted due to our complexes
This life in the « frames » not only causes psychological damage, but it also leads to blind overconsumption. There is pressure to recreate the same “clichés” of happiness and wellbeing. If we have only one image to present, our social status will be expressed by the consumer goods that will be displayed there. That’s why to feel better, we consume… and we consume too much. We travel far, we buy compulsively, without looking at our impact on the planet, clothes and gadgets… New shoes, a new car, a trip to Bali. We are entering the spiral of consumption follow by the loss of real values (and we do not feel any better – because the person we compared ourselves to has already managed to visit Mexico and Australia in the meantime…). Our complexes and jealousy not only exhaust our psyche and the resources of our bank account, but also the resources of our planet.
Our happiness depends on our values
With social networks and our need to compare, we lose our internal roadmap. It is no longer our values that guide us, but our extreme jealousy. If we start comparing ourselves to others, we will never be happy. We do not have a thousand options: to live our life, we have the possibility to look inside or outside ourselves. And the choice between these two ways of looking at things changes diametrically the course of our lives. In the Ted lecture “Why are we happy?” , Dan Gilbert, an American psychologist, tells the story of two musicians. (Here is a link to Ted talk). We first learn the story of the Beatles’ first drummer, expelled from the band just before their success. This man never regretted what had happened because he had found, in the meantime, the love of his life and created a satisfying family life. These were the values that were most important to him. He never had a moment of regret, on the contrary. In the few interviews he gave, he said it was the “best thing” that could have happened to him. Next to that story, we have another member of a large group, expelled from its ranks. It’s the story of Dave Mustaine and Metallica. The musician was expelled from the band just before Metallica signed its first major contract. Dave Mustaine had a hard time accepting this eviction. He took it upon himself to create another band, hoping to surpass Metallica. He created Megadeth. The two groups are well known to us … we can say that Mustaine realized his wish… but unfortunately for him, his success was not enough, because his dream was to be bigger than Metallica. Since he did not pass Metallica he never found the peace and satisfaction he was looking for. He decided that his value depended on an external situation, and so … according to him, he never achieved the desired success.
Find your internal compass
It is very important to know what our purpose in life is, what values define us as human beings. And the external comparison just needs to be a little push to us to make better choices. Let’s not forget that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. If we start comparing ourselves all the time, instead of prospering, we risk losing our confidence completely.
Here are some tips on how to retrieve our internal compass and not get dragged into the unhealthy comparison.
Find out what really matters in your life.
We cannot stop comparing ourselves, but we can choose what matters in our lives and see how others have managed to live with similar values. Paradoxically, social networks can be a good platform for this. Instead of following accounts with perfect bodies who are photographed in magical places, let’s find people who look like us and yet are inspiring. We need to know the difference between “being” and “appearing” and finding people who live an interesting life having the same values as we do.
Communicate with people.
If you ever find someone who inspires you or makes you a little jealous of their ideal life: connect with them, talk to them. All of a sudden, you will discover that this is a completely normal person, with moments of weakness and doubts. This person can become a real source of inspiration. If it’s someone who you follow on social media, don’t hesitate to ask them questions and you’ll see that you have a whole person in front of you – with strengths and weaknesses like all of us.
Create deeper connections with others.
During isolation, we understood how important human contact, peace and health are to our well-being. For few months, we were all in our old t-shirts with our yoga pants. We became more human, more vulnerable. While on vacation – before you face the stressful reality of automn – let’s try to make deeper connections with our friends. We can learn to be together, to communicate better, to trust each other and to be more vulnerable. Our meetings will be held in small groups, creating the conditions for closer ties. By being closer one will no longer have to play the “ideal life”.
Accept your life as it is, with your mistakes and weaknesses.
I am far from saying that we should abandon our dreams because we have weaknesses. I think if we want to do something, we have to pursue our goals. However, if we want to move forward, we must accept ourselves as we are, entirely. If there are things that block us – make us blush – let’s accept them. They are part of us. Let’s try to return this to our advantage. Let us simply become more creative, in order to get around our obstacles, but let us keep caring for ourselves. Often, being able to admit that we have a weakness makes us more likeable and “human” to others – and this can make of other people our allies in pursuit of our dream.
I am sure that many of you have already experienced the impostor syndrome. It is when we succeed, when people congratulate us and when we tell ourselves that it is not us, that it is not deserved, that it is because of luck or the help of others, or even the fruit of a mistake. We cannot accept that something happened because of us. Of course, success is often the sum of different circumstances, but we must not forget one important point: we are the ones who were able to bring these circumstances together. Someone else wouldn’t have done it if they were in our position. Even if there was luck or help from others in the equation, it was our personality and intelligence that brought these elements together to make them successful.
Cherish what you have. /strong
It’s so banal, but if you want to have the things you are jealous of, you risk not be able to see what you already have. You have to know how to stop in life and enjoy the chance you already have.
This post is also available in: French