Why Do You Compare Yourself To Others (How To Stop It)

You know all too well you should not compare yourself with others. But you can’t stop yourself from doing it.

So, wouldn’t it be great if you never compared yourself to any person you ever met? Here’s how you could finally bring yourself to do it, backed by scientific evidence.

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?

stop comparing with others

Here are 5 things to do to stop comparing yourself to others:

  1. Judge yourself only by your own yardstick.
  2. Realize life is unfair to all of us in some respects.
  3. Do not bring down others when you’re​ talking​ about them.
  4. Distract yourself from ruminating on other people’s successes.
  5. Compare yourself only to your past self.

Why Humans Compare Themselves

We, as modern humans, tend to compare ourselves to others as a result of biologic, genetic, and environmental predetermination following the evolutionary practice of social comparison for survival. The comparison we do is a measuring scale to assess our social value.

Let’s get it in easy words now as we explore its origin. Comparing self to others is something the humans have been compulsorily doing since the cave-dwelling days.

Early humans compared themselves to others since they started living in groups and tribes. Living in groups was an advantage for our earliest ancestors as they could share the work of hunting, cooking, building homes, care for kids.

But this also came with a disadvantage — who was to do what, and what would be the leadership hierarchy in the tribe.

To decide these, they had to compare each other’s capabilities in each area, and fix the best ones for a particular job. On this depended the safety, longevity, and wellness of the group.

This was so vital a part of their survival that it got hard-wired into the human brains. As evolution continued, those tribes who could do right this part of selecting the best one for a job lived on to procreate the next generation.

Initially, the appointments were more of a dictatorial nature. The tribal supreme leadership, based on their own comparisons and judgment, decided the person to the post.

Later, this took a more democratic form — sports.

They had contests which found out the strongest and the ablest. The tribesmen could now see who their best spear-thrower was, and why he should lead the hunting pack.

Women were fast to catch up. They started their own contests to find out, and socially anoint, the best looking, the best dancing, the best cooking ones among them. Those with the most became trophy wives.

Gradually, this became ubiquitous.

Humans started comparing each other on almost every parameter wealth, health, physique, wives, children, and more. They got down to putting a yardstick of themselves against all others to find out where they stood in their society, and what their social worth was.

In those days, the women wanted to find out how beautiful they were, and the men wanted to know how strong they stood, compared to others. With the evolution of our society, comparison turned into a competition.

While the basic premise remained the same, however, it became more elaborate in our modern world. Now, think of what we are doing today, and you will see we are not much different from our jungle-dwelling ancestors. Today we hold Mr and Miss Universe contests, don’t we?

Closer home, it is a story played out almost everywhere in Indian homes when a student gets his grades. The Indian parents make it a duty to find out how the other students score against their child. 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. Sometimes, 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.

Psychology of Social Comparison

But why do we compare, even when we know with our evolved modern brains that we probably should not?

Our comparison habit is quite pervasive. Obviously, this is a problem: social comparison, more often than not, makes us unhappy.

So, what does the 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 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. He was one of the first scientists to study and write about it in his theory of Social Comparison.

He believed this desire to compare is a biological urge in us that is as strong as thirst and hunger. He suggested we do so because humans have an innate drive to find out their exact worth in society.

There exists, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities.

— Festinger

As suggested by psychologists, the real reason you and I compare is to gain greater self-knowledge. Once we have gauged our qualities and abilities against others, we can find out how well we are doing in life.

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 where you stand on a scale of abilities. With this knowledge, you can pinpoint the areas to improve yourself.

For example, you may find out you have poor speaking skills compared to your colleague who just bagged a better promotion. But after you improve your speaking prowess, 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 do you have to perform better to reach the top.

One thing here: As an unwritten rule, you compare most with those who are like you. You compare yourself against those from nearly the same age, gender, and social status.

Look close, and you find you never even bother to compare with people who are not similar to you. Why? Because their worlds are far too different from ours, and so, in our minds, they become incomparable.

That is why you and I rarely compare ourselves to Richard Branson of Necker Island or Jarawa tribesmen of Andaman islands.

The Jarawas of Andaman Islands, India

3 Reasons To Stop Comparing Yourself

How do feel when you come across the 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 you should stop comparing yourself to others:

  1. Discouraging
  2. Gossiping
  3. Alienating

1. Discouraging

What has happened over the recent years is this: We have mistaken our Facebook friends as the ones we hang out with. And we are comparing our lives with them. In the real world, we might never have 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 an 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 belongings with such others. It discourages us.

Of course, we often tend to forget that our friends post the best of themselves on social media. We do not see their defeats and failures. Often, they do not even share with us the trials and pains they went through to reach that happy stage and that cheerful face.

So, stop comparing yourself to others because it discourages you.

2. Gossiping

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 terrible 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 a 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.

3. Alienating

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 a 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 —

  • envy,
  • guilt,
  • regret,
  • defensiveness, and
  • more unfulfilled cravings.

The frequent ‘comparers’ also tend to tell lies and blame others more. So, stop comparing yourself to others.

How To Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

Did you know that by comparing yourself to others, you could be killing your happiness? How do you stop comparing to others on social media, and in life otherwise? And what do you do when you feel the urge to comparing yourself to others?

Here are 5 strategies to stop comparing yourself to others:

  1. Judge yourself by your own yardstick. Measure how high you stand against your own standards.
  2. Realize that life is unfair to all of us in at least some respects. No one is given all. And no one is deprived of all.
  3. Do not bring down others when you’re​ talking​ about them, even when you’re​ gossiping​.
  4. Distract yourself from thinking in ruminating cycles about other people’s successes. Force yourself to engage your mind elsewhere.
  5. Compare yourself to your past self. This is the best comparison you can ever do for your peace and progress.

While the unhappy people compare with others more often, the happy people don’t bother themselves with how well others are doing.

why stop comparing yourself to others

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.

A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms.

– Zen Shin

Final Words

Right. So you understand how could you stop comparing yourself to others. Great!

All said and done, would you like to find out how rich you are in comparison to the 7.9+ billion people on this earth? Find out How Rich You Are?

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.

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