Throughout history it has been said that “comparison is the thief of joy”. These words alert us to the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. This notion has gained momentum in recent years, as more people reflect on the impact on our mental health when we compare ourselves to others. As social media is everywhere and so accessible, we now live in a world where we compare ourselves to others in some way almost every day.
The very essence of social media is comparison. We view posts, and it is natural to compare ourselves to the people we follow. Influencers rely on us wanting to be more like them. Advertisers take advantage of any feelings we may have of not living up to an ideal or owning a particular product. Most people offer a series of highlights of their lives on social media, rather than revealing the more challenging parts of their day. As a result, we end up comparing ourselves to ideals rather than reality and this can take away not only joy, but also our confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
Not that all comparison is bad, though sometimes a reminder that others are also experiencing difficulties can be of great comfort. Comparison can be a source of inspiration or hope. Acknowledging the struggles of others can provide comfort or guidance for our own. Comparison is really helpful if we are attempting to learn a new skill.
However, the problem with comparison today is the constant exposure that we have to images of other people’s lives. When our brain is actively thinking negative thoughts about our own lives, we will often seek out evidence to reinforce these thoughts and that is when comparison can be really harmful. Similarly, a moment of contentment can be destroyed in an instant if we focus on the positives of someone else’s experience rather than acknowledging our own.
There are a number of ways that we can take back control of comparison or bring habits into our lives to combat its negative impacts. Limiting of social media exposure is a good place to start. If you are having a bad day and choose to soothe yourself by scrolling through social media, you are more vulnerable to comparison than on a good day. It is those times that it is a good idea to try something else to stay calm or relax.
We can choose when, what and who we compare ourselves to. The best person to compare yourself to is yourself. Set personal goals and regularly reflect on your progress.
A daily practice of noticing and celebrating what you have achieved, no matter how small it may be, is a great place to start. Sharing with our whānau what they feel grateful for every day is a wonderful way to stay focused on what is positive in everyone’s lives rather than what may be lacking. It may be useful to have an open discussion about comparison and encourage everyone in your family to be more mindful about how they view themselves and others. Comparison can only steal our joy away if we let it
Bridget Farmiloe, Counsellor