I have this weird, vivid memory from my childhood, when I was playing with some neighborhood kids, and one of them informed me that her family had more “poperty” than mine. We couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old, summer days being spent playing in each others’ yards. Who had what or how much of anything wasn’t something that had really crossed my mind until then—at least not that I was aware of—but apparently it had been a topic of conversation in their home, so once it was brought to my attention I felt inferior for the first time I could remember. It’s wild to think that social comparisons can be rooted into our being at such a young age, isn’t it? From wanting the toy that the other kid has, to the sneakers that everyone is wearing, to skirt length, the cuter boy/girlfriend, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)…it progresses with us all our lives. Getting into the better college, getting the higher paying job, building what looks like a perfect life. And on and on.
Social comparison is a natural human behavior, and I think it can actually help in some ways—to help us learn from each other, to gauge how we’re doing, and sometimes it can even help us feel better about ourselves. But too much of it can be stressful and make us anxious, angry, or overly-competitive.
In my parents’ day, social comparison was there, but it was often encountered in person—the ladies at church noticing that so-and-so got another new dress. The casual mention of the new wall-to-wall carpeting or the husband’s promotion. The new car. Today, social media has taken social comparison to a whole new level—one that’s sometimes a little twisted and frightening. We see who’s doing what we’re not, or are they really doing that? The daily miles that we’re not keeping up with. The pace that’s faster than ours. The fabulous vacations, perfectly-themed and decorated parties. We’ve all fallen victim to these social comparisons at one time or another. Maybe the key to a better life isn’t to avoid social comparison altogether, but rather to just not let it run (or ruin) your life.
I will say that I think my hangups about social comparison are less than they used to be. Is it age? Maybe. But alongside of that, there are a few things I try to put into practice to keep my perspective:
Expressing gratitude for life itself, for the ability to think clearly and move freely, for the people I love and who give love back to me, for a roof over my head, and for a job that pays the bills.
Celebrating my strengths (which are many) and being OK with imperfections (which are infinitely more), because it’s these very things that make me who I am.
Cleaning up my social media feed, occasionally weeding out the accounts that stir up negativity
Affirming those who inspire or motivate me as positive role models
We only get one go-around at life, and none of us is promised a certain number of days. I guess I’ve just reached the place in my life where I refuse to live out whatever time I have left comparing myself to anyone else. For me, that’s a key worth holding onto.