The best part of our lives is often spent wondering how well we compare to other people. Are we taller, wealthier, happier, more intelligent, better looking, more successful, more fulfilled? We see it in very young children who come home wanting to dress like someone at school, or ‘be’ a celebrity, or have that pair of trainers. You’d think with maturity the pressures would lessen but this isn’t the case. Our urge to draw comparisons lasts a very long time and I suspect few, if any, people are totally immune.
Depression can be fueled by social comparison. If anything is guaranteed to trigger resentment, guilt, anxiety and anger it’s social comparisons. Self judgment in such circumstances will reveal you as deficient in any number of ways. Your already battered insecurities increase and what self-esteem remains is hanging by a thread.
The things we desire
Given the fact that we all make social comparisons, why are some people more affected than others? Part of the reason may be the direction we tend to focus on. Almost invariably our social comparisons are envy based. We’re pleased we’re not spending the night on the street, but it’s not a major preoccupation. Things designed to tempt us are everywhere we look—the cars, the clothes, the expensive vacations, and so on. For some people the gap between where they are and where they’d like to be is huge and probably seems insurmountable.
Refocusing can help
It’s interesting that the advice we offer others can be so elusive to us as individuals. How many times have you heard one person say to another, ‘but you’ve got your health, a loving partner, a secure job with a good income,’ or something along those lines. It’s an attempt to encourage the person to get things into perspective. Does it work? Well, maybe – maybe not. However, as a principle I see nothing wrong in it. If we must draw comparisons maybe we should tell ourselves to look in the opposite direction more often and be more grateful for what we’ve got rather than dwelling on what we don’t have. Fostering an attitude of gratitude really does seem to improve mood.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.