In an age where we have access to millions of social profiles, blogs, and Youtube channels at the click of a button, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others. Even a few minutes of innocent scrolling can turn into a vortex of “why can’t I create things like that?” and “I wish I lived that life.” This turns into feeling sorry for ourselves and lowered self esteem, which often leads to more scrolling and negative comparisons to those we feel have it better than us.
Something that is often disheartening to hear: social comparison is essentially unavoidable. We see someone with the job we want, the attention we want, or the life we want, and our brains automatically do what is called an “upward social comparison,” the act of comparing ourselves to someone who we perceive as being better than ourselves in some way, which can be detrimental to our emotional well-being.
When I was recovering from an eating disorder, I spent hours scrolling through Tumblr, looking at all the girls who appeared to have their lives in order. Every picture displayed them looking perfect; thin, smile plastered across their face, an ocean or forest in the background, and often some perfectly curated smoothie bowl or salad. I never realized that many of these girls were struggling with their own eating disorders or mental health issues.
If I’d known that at the time, maybe I wouldn’t have idolized them so much. At least now, looking back, I realize what was going on. And I’ve learned from it.
Using Social Comparison to Your Advantage
However, you can use upward social comparison to your advantage. One of the best tips I’ve ever heard in regards to comparing yourself to others is to use that comparison to motivate you, not suck you into an envy spiral. Take a look at the characteristics that this person has: are they driven, kind, non-judgmental? Actively strive to be like that by making small changes in your own life.
Because if you want something, then you need to take the necessary steps to get there. Want to start a Youtube channel? Write poetry? Get paid to write travel articles? Then you need to take the first step. You’ll never accomplish anything if you stare at your phone screen, wishing you had someone else’s life.
Be Careful With Social Comparison
However, you do need to realize that the information you’re comparing yourself to (say, on an Instagram post) is highly tailored and carefully selected by the person posting it. It’s a fraction of their life, and not at all an accurate representation of their entire being — one photo/caption is not enough to form a comprehensive picture of what the person’s life is like.
Take for example Essena O’Neill. Anyone who looked at her Instagram posts would have seen a happy girl living a dream life in Australia. Every picture was perfectly poised; and that was the problem. I remember in the depths of my eating disorder scrolling through her Instagram, wishing so hard that I had her life. But her photos and posts were all created to show the “best” moments of her life, which were almost always staged. We didn’t see the pressure and mental health issues she was dealing with — just fragments of a fabricated life.
This isn’t limited to Instagram models or other social media accounts. It’s linked to the people in your real life, the people you have added on Facebook or see in line at the grocery store. We’re limited to seeing snapshots of their life. They may post about their new job, but they don’t talk about the hard work it took to get there, and the long hours they now put in. Or they may post about their trip through Europe, but we don’t see the loneliness, food poisoning, or lost luggage.
There are two main points I want you to take away from this. One: You can use social comparison as motivation to better yourself, and two: be careful when looking at other people’s lives; you’re not seeing the full picture.
If you let it, the social comparison cycle can really bring you down. But if you use it to your advantage, you’ll be living the life you want in no time.