Measuring oneself versus others is a natural process for humans, and it can be beneficial in some cases. The urge to improve your own life might be sparked by feeling inspired by someone else’s accomplishments. Self-esteem can be boosted by acknowledging that your abilities are superior to those of others. Comparisons, on the other hand, might be harmful if they cause you to feel inferior or unhappy on a regular basis.
Such comparisons include those with whom we most closely identify, as well as those who are in our social circle. We are more likely to compare our circumstances to those of family members, acquaintances, coworkers, and neighbors than to those of a billionaire or a homeless person. The comparisons we notice the most are in areas we value, such as attractiveness, relationships, wealth, professional success, or it can also be more specific like ambitions.
How we process information determines the implications of upward and downward comparison.
Self-improvement happens when a positive comparison motivates us to work more on ourselves.
When we notice how similar we are to someone superior (e.g., both went to the same school), or when we play up our differences with someone who is not as good, we are engaging in self-enhancement (e.g., I am more dedicated to my work than my colleague). When we compare upward only to find discrepancies that feel impossible, we remain disappointed. Negative comparison can substantially harm the mental health of individuals who are prone to it.
So, how does one compare in a healthy way?
1. More connection, not comparison
Limit how much time you spend on social media, but more importantly, how you use that time.
Send private messages, chat about shared experiences, seek true emotional connection, and utilize social media in general to cultivate the kinds of relationships that are known to be important rather than passively browsing.
2. Look up, only a little
According to research, comparing oneself to peers who are slightly better than oneself might increase motivation and effort; for example, children who compare themselves to classmates who are slightly better than them get better grades. It is important to see that progress is possible. Preferably, it is to compare yourself to someone a step or two above rather than someone at the very top of the ladder.
3. Compare yourself to you
People who are happy utilize themselves for internal appraisal, similar to how older people measure themselves against their own past. They are aware of upward comparisons, but they do not allow it to impair their self-esteem. They maintain a concentration on self-improvement. A satisfied jogger compares himself to his most recent run, not to speedier competitors.
To summarize, comparing is a fundamental human instinct that cannot be entirely suppressed.
However, if we understand its causes, mechanisms, and warning signs, we may be able to reduce the harmful impacts while amplifying the positive ones. You are less inclined to worry about what you do not have if you concentrate on the positive aspects of your life.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Charlot Cauchi is a Gestalt Psychotherapist at Willingness. He has experience with adult clients with mental health difficulties, anxiety, depression, loss, trauma, stress and relational issues.
Prinstein, M. (2017). The power of likeability in a status-obsessed world. Viking