Comparing ourselves with others is one of the easiest things we can do today, and most probably we all do it one way or another. Starting with the first human interaction with a potential competitor, like a brother or friend at home or in kindergarten, we compare ourselves with the others in an attempt to be better, smarter, more liked, more successful and so on, thinking this is a good thing. For many, it’s a way to confirm we are socially liked and that we matter.
If comparing ourselves with others would always trigger ambitious feelings and a wish to become better and better at what we’re doing, comparison might be a good thing, still, most of the times the effects are not at all that positive. We tend to develop feelings of envy, negativity, avoidance and in the long run, become anxious, feeling unworthy of the life we think we want or deserve, or depressed, thinking we are so far away from the perfect life others are living.
Comparing ourselves with others: an illusion most of the times
Today, almost all of us spend more or less time on social media – from Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat and so on – we are all familiar with one platform or the other. Media is surrounding us as well with its super cool stories of successful people and perfect career paths or hobbies – they’re all around us, from magazines to newspapers and online websites. Therefore, it’s easier than ever to see how great others live, what brilliant things they do, what superb jobs they have and the amazing places they travel to. And so is falling into the trap of thinking that this all is real and that your life is and will always be so different (and not in a positive way) from everything you see around you.
But have you ever wondered if that is actually really true and these people really live a perfect life? I hardly believe they are truly really happy, despise the amazing life they seem to be living.
And on the other side, think about yourself. How many of your social shares are of bad or sad moments that are actually not so interesting for the others? Not too many, right? You usually post things that the other might like and can get you social attention. The exact same thing is what the others do – they post their best moments, the pictures in which they look great, where their family looks amazing and most of the times, only what is cool and can get a high number of likes.
Therefore, the easy conclusion is that whatever you see there in magazines and online, is most of the times an illusion. It’s either not true, or it’s only a small part of the whole picture. And the whole picture is not that great nor perfect.
How does comparison makes us feel – short and long run
“Comparison is the death of joy” Mark Twain once said, and he couldn’t possibly be truer. I am sure it will easily come to your mind a personal example of a time when you were happy with a piece of work you produced till you compared it with someone else’s. Then, you started to feel like your work is incomplete, not good enough or simply that the other one’s work was greater. Sometimes, you even thought you’re not the right one for the job, feeling quite unworthy or an impostor.
On the short run, comparing ourselves with others only produces feelings of envy, jealousy, inferiority and on the medium to long term, it will affect your self-confidence, will compromise your ability to trust yourself and others and eventually it will lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Another form of comparison – the one with the less fortunate, can produce more positive results, but that comes with a cost. It’s ok to feel thankful and grateful that your situation is so much better that what others are going through, just make sure to keep away from mean-spirited competitiveness, pride and devaluing others just for you to feel good – you’ll easily become selfish and in the end, it still won’t put an end to your wish for more, as some other people in magazines seem to have.
Looking inside yourself
The only truly acceptable form of comparison – acceptable in the way that it’s positive and going to do you well – is the comparison with yourself. But I hope that you already know this.
What is that you wish to become? How good a performer you want to be? What house you long to live in? What are the values you want to keep true to? What relationships you want to pursue? What hobbies you want to get better at? How do you see yourself in the next few months, year, decade?
Always ask yourself if your actions are true to who you want to become, and not to what your media peers have become. Stay true to what gives you meaning, satisfaction and makes you happy. Look inside yourself and ignore the world. In the end, your life is yours only and you should stay true to your own dreams and wishes.
And one last thing as the end – as a beginner in the Buddhism teachings, one thing that stayed with me was the fact that there are four conditions in life that cause suffering – birth, aging, illness and death. In front of these conditions, we are all equals – we suffer the same no matter how known, wealthy, successful or fabulous we are. But what is left when facing anything are the values upon which we have lived our lives. The way we stayed true to our self – by accepting us, investing in things that matter for us, spending time with the people we love and trust, and living a life with a purpose. And these all come from within, from staying true to who we are and avoid superficial things, such as comparison with the life some other people struggle to live on their own. Be healthy, stay true to your own wishes and being, and your life will become meaningful. And in the end, that’s all that matters.