Wouldn’t it be great if you never compared yourself to any person you ever meet? You know all too well that you shouldn’t compare yourself with others. What’s more, you keep getting that same advice from your well-wishers too: “Yeah, you should stop comparing yourself to others.”
But you still try to find out how popular you are on Facebook as compared to your friends, don’t you?
Why Can’t You Stop Comparing Yourself
Why do we ‘all’ keep comparing ourselves to others?
Because we were wired to do it since our prehistoric days.
The comparison that we do is actually a measuring habit that humans have been doing since the caveman days. Even as early humans, we were always comparing ourselves to others in our tribes, usually with those of the same age and sex. The women wanted to find out how beautiful they were, and the men wanted to know how strong they stood, compared to others.
With evolution of our society, comparison turned into competition. While the basic premise remained the same, however, it became more elaborate in our modern world. We now have contests for Miss Universe and Mr Universe.
Closer home, it’s a story played out everywhere in Indian homes when a student gets his grades. The parents make it a duty to find out how the other students scored. Now this comparison list runs long – the friends and classmates of their kids, the kids of their own friends and colleagues, and, of course, the kids in their neighborhood. In some cases, kids of their faraway distant cousins too.
This “keeping up with the Joneses” and trying to outdo them is just as good here in India as in the rest of the English-speaking world out there. It begins early and keeps on till the kids themselves become parents, and carry through the tradition with dutifulness.
But why do we compare — when we know with our evolved modern brains that we probably shouldn’t?
The Science Behind Comparing Yourself
Our comparison habit is quite pervasive. Obviously, this is a problem: social comparison more often than not makes us unhappy. So, what does research say on why should you stop comparing yourself to others? What is the science behind this comparing habit of ours?
The theory of social comparison says that we fix our own personal and social worth based on how we place ourselves against others. It was first proposed in 1954 by the American sociologist Leon Festinger, who was one of the first to study and write about it in his theory of Social Comparison.
He believed that this desire to compare is a biological urge in us that is as strong as thirst and hunger. And suggested that we do so because we humans have an innate drive to find out our exact worth in the society.
“There exists, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities.” — Festinger.
As speculated by psychologists, we gain greater self-knowledge when we compare. By comparing, we:
- Come to know of the standards to judge ourselves.
- Get to become more certain of our abilities and performance.
- Find out how our feelings and opinions hold against others.
- Build a truer picture of our strengths and weaknesses.
- Motivate and make ourselves feel better.
Once you can benchmark your qualities and abilities against others, you can find out how well you’re doing. With this knowledge, you can pinpoint the criteria to improve yourself. For example, you may find out that you’ve to better your speaking skills as compared to your colleague who just bagged a better promotion.
Then, after you improve yourself, you can keep or build your superiority and authority. And we all want to become superior in some aspect, because we all are born with a primary inferiority complex. If we were to believe Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychotherapist, “Everyone… has a feeling of inferiority.”
In one line, you compare because you want to find out on what counts you have to do better to come out on top.
One thing here: As an unwritten general rule, you compare yourself most with those who are like you. You never even bother to compare yourselves to people who are far too different from you. The reason being that their worlds are too different from ours, and so incomparable.
That’s why you and I don’t compare ourselves to Bill Gates or the Jarawa tribe of Andaman islands.
3 Reasons To You Stop Comparing Yourself
How do feel when you come across happy, radiant faces of your social media friends all over your Pinterest and Instagram? How do you feel when you see pictures of your Facebook friends holidaying in Machu Picchu, Bora Bora, or Ice Canyon?
Don’t answer the obvious. Instead, read on.
Comparing has a dark, negative side. Here are three reasons why you should stop comparing yourself to others:
What has happened over the recent years is this: We have started to mistake our Facebook friends as the ones we hang out with. And we began to compare our lives with them. In real-world, we would have never compared ourselves with them as they are way too different from us. This creates the problem of comparing with the incomparable.
This comparing yourself to others who are better off is upward comparison. It is a lousy way to measure your progress. Even if you had similar early lives, those you compare with may have grown into different situations and personalities. It’s a self-defeating exercise when we compare our abilities and stuffs with such others. It discourages.
Of course, we often tend to forget that our friends post the best of themselves on the social media. We don’t see their defeats and failures. Oftentimes, they don’t even share with us the trials and pains they went through to reach that happy stage and that happy face.
So, stop comparing yourself to others because it discourages you.
While comparing may not include gossiping, but in large parts, gossiping is comparing. A big part of our conversation is “small talk.” We small-talk about others’ advantages, disadvantages, mishaps, failures, personal lives and relationship status.
Gossip, on the whole, is talking about absent people. It always carried a bad reputation. According to Wert and Salovey, 2004, around 60% of our talks with others involve gossip. They further say that all gossip involves social comparison.
Gossipers often compare to put others down. Aggressive gossipers, as a rule, compare themselves with less fortunate people to feel better. This is downward comparison — comparing to others who are worse off. It makes people feel better as they see they are in a superior position.
In personal lives, gossip is thrilling but not without some element of malice. We hate gossipers even though we all gossip to some extent. We sometimes use it to deface and defame others. Gossip can also be a tool of manipulation.
At workplace, gossip is often the reason for premature resignations, leadership failures, and rampant animosity, as investigated by Hallet, 2009.
Stop gossiping, because when you’re doing that, you’re likely comparing yourself to others less fortunate than you. And feeling superior this way is so wrong.
By comparing, we can harm our relationships and alienate our close ones from us.
Frequent comparisons can destroy our ability to trust in close relationships. Also, it can breed feelings of worthlessness in them. Negative comparisons can make you feel envy, which can then lead to anxiety, anger, hostility, and negative mood. A habit of comparison may even bring on depression.
Researchers Judith White and Ellen Langer in their paper The Dark Side of Social Comparisons say that people who compare themselves often are more likely to experience —
- defensiveness, and
- more unfulfilled cravings.
The frequent ‘comparers’ also tend to tell lies and blame others more. So, stop comparing yourself to others.
Did you know that by comparing yourself to others, you could be killing your happiness?
While the unhappy people compare with others more often, the happy people don’t bother themselves with how well others are doing.
As pointed out by happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, happy people pay less attention to social comparisons. This then loops back to give them an immediate happiness boost. Unhappy people linger on comparisons. This dents their self-esteem and makes them even more unhappy.
Right. All said and done, now would you like to find out how rich you are in comparison to the 7.4 billion people on this earth? Just go here: Global Rich List.
In Friend And Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both, Galinsky and Schweitzer draw on original, cutting edge research as well as vivid real-world examples to show how to maximize success in work and in life by deftly navigating the tension between cooperation and competition.
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