As the old saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy—and humans love joy! So, why is it that we so often suffer from the tenacious tendency to compare ourselves to others?
This impulse to compare is called “social comparison,” and there are two ways in which we engage with it. Upward social comparison is when we compare ourselves to people who we perceive as being better off than us, and this usually makes us feel dissatisfied. Downward social comparison is when we do the opposite and compare ourselves to those who we perceive to be worse off, which makes us feel satisfied—but often in a way that doesn’t motivate us to work harder.
While there are some cases where social comparisons can be beneficial (like when you’re comparing yourself to teammates who are at similar levels to you with the aim of motivating the entire group), most of the time, it’s not a productive practice. Here are three things you can do instead:
Focus on your path
When you compare yourself to others, it can make you more likely to start working towards something that other people have achieved, when in reality, achieving the same thing doesn’t actually align with your goals. Fixating on other people’s achievements can also sap the enjoyment out of doing things that you previously liked to do because you suddenly feel dissatisfied with your life.
Instead of looking at what makes others happy, think about what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. To help you zone in on this, make a list of the key things you would like to accomplish or achieve.
Enjoy other people’s success
Other people’s achievements are hard to ignore—especially with the rise of social media—but when you observe them, try to rework your reaction. While it’s natural to experience a bit of jealousy when someone else has or does something that you want for yourself, instead of giving in to envy, try to enjoy celebrating their successes with them.
For instance, if you let go of resentment and congratulate a colleague for landing a promotion, then they (and the rest of your team) will see you as an uplifting and positive member of the community, and this could play a role in your own future success. Of course, it may take some time to be able to feel genuine in your congratulations, so it’s best to simply start with shifting your mindset privately before reaching out.
Concentrate on gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful antidote to negative feelings in general, so if you feel yourself leaning into social comparisons, take a step back and remember to be grateful for what you have.
As social creatures, it’s natural for us to take note of what others are doing, however, focusing on gratitude can help us remember our positive feelings for people in our lives—those who have motivated, supported, mentored, and bolstered us in the past and continue to do so now. This can help facilitate a change of attitude when it comes to viewing others and ourselves.