We live most of our (early) lives comparing ourselves to others. It often starts in puberty, and sometimes even early childhood. Christine is prettier. Annie has nicer clothes than me. Zac gets better grades without having to do much for it. Those were the thoughts that – partly – occupied my mind when I was a child. In a way, it saddens me, because children shouldn’t worry about these things.
As I got older, I started comparing my job title, income level, social circles and the size of my apartment to others.
It makes us feel bad, but we keep doing it.
It’s in our nature
Comparing yourself to others is normal, and according to some, it’s even inevitable. In the book Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both, psychologists Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer argue that social comparison is a innate human tendency. The book stresses that even if it isn’t a wise move, it is a big part of our happiness.
The book describes a very interesting study, done by Emory University scientist Frans de Waal. In the study, De Waal gave one ape cucumber and another one grapes. “Upon seeing this inequity, the monkey who was offered the regular cucumber went, well, apeshit,” Galinsky and Schweitzer write. The monkeys who perceived themselves as receiving a lesser deal became very upset, sometimes they would even throw the slice of cucumber back in the experimenter’s face. “What this experiment demonstrates,” the authors write, “is that our evolutionary ancestors did not evaluate their outcomes in isolation; rather, they evaluated outcomes in a comparative process.”
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” —Theodore Roosevelt
The study shows that comparison and the feeling that things are unfair is part of our nature. The rise of internet, and specifically social media, certainly doesn’t help this phenomenon. Comparing your ‘boring’ life to that of an Instagram user that does yoga, goes out for runs, has great dinners and parties with friends is the easy thing to do, but it is not a fair comparison. Nobody posts about their anxieties, fights with their partner and insecurities. I enjoy Instagram quite a bit (my new cat is currently taking over) but looking at my own feed, I, of course, just see the highlights of my life.
When we wish to be like others, we don’t wish to be everything about that person. Just the aspects that we find inspirational. The idealized perception of an individual is narcissistic in nature. The people you admire so much can probably not even live up to the standards that we’ve set for them in our heads.
Things to remember
Comparing yourself to others is a habit with numerous shortcomings. Here are a few things to remember next time you catch yourself practicing this habit:
- You have nothing to gain. And by comparing yourself to others, nothing will change.
- The time you spend comparing yourself to others, could be spend more wisely. By working towards your goals for example.
- Comparison puts the focus on the wrong person. You can only compare your own life, not someone else’s. When you compare yourself to others, you focus on them, and that isn’t going to get you anywhere.
- Comparing yourself to others often results in resentment towards that person. In other words, you become salty and more hateful.
- Comparisons add no value, meaning or fulfillment to our lives. It robs us of joy and love for ourselves.
Two habits to practice
The road to self-love is a long one. And even though comparing yourself to others is a totally human emotion and it comes naturally to us, I believe you can deal with it by practicing two simple habits. These are the things that helped me when I was struggling with myself and compared myself to others.
- Find inspiration without comparison. Comparing ourselves to others often fires us up, it can inspire and motivate us to be ‘better than then’. The problem is that this is the wrong type of motivation. It’s like putting the wrong kind of gas in your car. It might run, but not nearly as good. Surround yourself with people you admire and learn from them. Asking questions is nothing to be ashamed about.
- Become aware of your own successes. You are an unique person, with unique experiences and unique successes. To stop comparing yourself to others, it’s important to recognize those successes and celebrate them. Try to find motivation in them to do even better!