In psychology, it is theorized that people often determine their own self-worth and personal value based on how they compare with others in their social circle. This is known as social comparison theory and it asserts that people constantly make self and other evaluations across a variety of different qualities such as attractiveness, wealth, intelligence and success. However, frequent negative social comparison can have a dark side, especially when people evaluate themselves as inferior to their peers.
Studies have shown that people who make frequent social comparisons are more likely to experience feelings of envy, regret, guilt and defensiveness and also lie, blame others or have unmet cravings. Overall, people who make a lot of negative social comparisons tend to be more unhappy and have more destructive feelings and behaviors. People who make downward comparisons and feel that they are better off than their peers will generally feel happier at least temporarily than those who make upward comparisons believing themselves to be worse off than their peers.
Ultimately, social comparisons in either respect can decrease a person’s feeling of well-being. Those who make less frequent spontaneous comparisons are likely to be happier than those who do it more frequently no matter what type of comparison they are making. Studies suggest that those who are less vulnerable to social comparison information are happier because they simply do not pay attention to how well others are doing.
Social Media and Social Comparison
There is a strong correlation between the tendency to seek social comparison information and low self-esteem, depression and neuroticism. Unfortunately, with the widespread availability of social media there is a common tendency to scroll through other people’s posts and begin to compare yourself with others. With modern technology, social comparison and mental health may be more of an issue than ever before.
It is very common for people to feel sad or inadequate about their own lives after scrolling through social media for a few minutes. Studies have confirmed that Facebook can cause feelings of depression and loneliness especially among younger people who may be more vulnerable to social comparison. One of the issues with social media is that people only share a portion of their lives to the public, and may leave out some of their more negative experiences.
Negative social comparison can become difficult to avoid on social media as you view moments from other people’s relationships, family life, and seemingly perfect lives. People can turn their social media feed into a highlight reel even if it is done unintentionally and make others feel that their lives are inferior. Spending too much time on social media, engaging in social comparison can quickly lead to feelings of depression.
A modern term related to social media use is a problem known as “smiling depression” in which an individual appears to be happy, smiling and positive but in reality is actually miserable. People try to create ideal versions of themselves on the internet and the pressure to maintain the appearance of happiness can lead to depression. They choose to hide the negative aspects of their lives and yet compare these behind the scenes moments with the highlight reel of other people online.
Limiting and Managing Social Comparison for Better Mental Health
Although it can be difficult to stop comparing yourself to others in the modern world, it is important for people to realize how damaging social comparison can be to our well-being. If we can find different ways to approach social media and reduce our natural tendency for social comparison it can help to reduce self-esteem issues and depression. People who are less-inclined to compare themselves with others, either positively or negatively tend to be happier and more well-adjusted.
When it comes to comparison either in reality or on social media, a good approach is to look at other people’s positive qualities as inspiration or something to learn from. Instead of feeling competitive toward others, or evaluating ourselves as inferior we can regard another person’s accomplishments as a learning experience. Rather than trying to be better than others you can focus more on being the best version of yourself.
It may be too challenging to completely stop social comparison as it is an instinctive psychological habit that helps us determine our own self-worth. But finding ways to reduce and manage your comparison to more positive and healthy activities can help minimize the damage that it can cause to your mental health.
A great way to manage negative social comparison and depression is to take time out of every day to feel grateful. Creating feelings of gratitude in yourself for all the things that you have can make you feel less inferior than your peers. Remembering all the things that you can be grateful for can get you out of the cycle of comparison and help you to feel happier overall.