By Go-getter Gaithri Raj. Gaithri writes about a variety of wellness topics and work-life balance for Go Get The World.
We often draw literary parallels to life, such as categorizing life events as chapters or books. We are living, breathing people thrown into the chaos of life, and categorizing helps us make sense of things. Unfortunately, we often forget that each of us has our own book with its own chapters and can find ourselves comparing someone’s life to our own. Worse, we can end up wondering why (or even lamenting that) we’re not in the same chapter as someone else.
This tendency to compare ourselves to others is called social comparison orientation (SCO). While the term itself isn’t new, the pervasiveness of it is, due to today ’s widespread use of social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). And, it’s having varying degrees of impact on our psyches and well-being.
Scholars who study social media’s impact on society (and, let’s face it, even casual observers) can see that the images and posts shared on social media typically present a positive and more favorable window into people’s lives. The images are often of friends laughing together, adorable babies being happy, children on their best behavior, delicious food and Instagram-able curated shots. People (rarely if ever) post pictures of friends arguing with each other, an inconsolable teething baby, the burnt casserole in the oven, or the 37 ‘jumps’ they took to get that perfect shot before falling and spraining their ankle.
This creates an illusion that only ‘good and happy’ things happen in life and if that’s not what’s happening in your life, then you are failing miserably.
Don’t fall prey to this fallacy! Instead, counteract it with reality. Everyone has good days and bad days.
Researchers have found that those of us who are naturally drawn to social media tend to be highly self-critical and to compare ourselves to others. This natural tendency is ripe for creating feelings of inadequacies and failure because we can easily reach self-defeating conclusions about our own lives when compared to others’ (e.g., we are not running as fast, not losing as much weight, not getting that great promotion or new job, or aren’t finding the love of our lives).
The activity of social comparison obliterates our achievements by overshadowing them with the accomplishments of others, and prevents us from focusing on what we have already accomplished.
In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu refer to the research and publications from the Happiness Research Institute. In one study from 2015, daily Facebook users were randomly assigned to either avoid Facebook (the experimental group) or continue to engage in typical Facebook use (the control group). Both groups reported a 94% use of Facebook as part of a daily routine and 78% report using it for 30 minutes or more each day prior to the study. After a week without Facebook, the experimental group reported feeling like they had wasted less time. The control group, however, reported having 55% more stress in their lives and were 39% more likely to feel less happy than their friends.
So, as you make the most of your journey to Go Get The World, remember these three things:
- Constantly comparing your life to someone else’s, especially on social media, distracts you from recognizing your achievements and happiness. Focus instead on YOUR progress, YOUR goals, and YOUR successes.
- There are no predictable chapters in life. Our chapters are different and uniquely ours and ours alone. Embrace them!
- And last, as a wise person once said, enjoy your journey!
A few members of our team of Go-getters opened up about their battles with social comparison to show how common it is:
- Amanda: I’ve always made my career a priority and set audacious goals for it. (And you’ll be able to read more about goal-setting in the coming weeks here!) When I was 26, I set the goal to become a director at my company by age 30. And it happened when I was 29…to someone else. I was shocked. I had put so much time, energy and passion into my role, why wasn’t that me who got the promotion? It made me start to doubt my capabilities and to think I was not good enough. Eventually, I did become a director, then a Vice President, and today, I am president of another startup. I didn’t know this would be my journey, but I kept right on going to see where it led!
- Jessi: I am just now starting to progress in my career (I’m 34) — I thought I would be much further along by now. That being said, I made a HUGE career shift when I was only 28 by deciding to leave journalism. That set me back a few years and put me behind my peers in terms of promotions, etc. For a while, it was really difficult for me to watch my friends grow and thrive in their careers and I was just sort of floating, trying to figure out what to do next. It was only recently that I realized this journey is mine, and the fact that I have a background in journalism gives me very specific knowledge I wouldn’t have, had I not started there, and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today!
- Precious: I’ve held onto weight after giving birth to each of my kiddos and have been been having a hard time losing it. Others around seemed to have “bounced back”. This ultimately made it harder to take care of myself and get off the couch.
- Tricia: I’ve changed my career four times, and I haven’t gone to grad school as I thought I would. I never even actually used the degree I so meticulously created in the self-created major. I used to beat myself up when comparing myself to friends who found their “one thing” all those years ago and followed an ordinary and predictable path to success. While I have had great success in each of my careers, I used to feel bad that my career path has never been linear. Now I see that all the twists and turns, the starts and restarts, have resulted in an incredibly interesting life in which I’ve been able to learn a wide variety of things and help many people.
Do you have a story to share with us about how you mistakenly compared your life to someone else’s? Share it with our community and we’ll send you some GGTW stickers!