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Raise your hand if you ever thought less of yourself because you saw someone do something you didn’t think you could do. All of us? Good. How do you think that feeling helped you? It didn’t, right? Right. Yet comparing our perceived failures to others’ perceived successes is something we do all the time!
We grew up learning we could do anything or be anything we wanted, if only we applied enough hard work to our dreams. Our parents lived and worked through a time when hard work and dedication led to a successful career. The 80’s were a time when individuality was king and we were all unique and special flowers. Follow your heart and life will be unicorns and rainbows. Hate to break it to you, but they sold us a lie. There simply aren’t enough unicorns and rainbows for everyone who’s willing to work hard.
But what happens when we look at how we think we measure up to others? What kind of damage does it do? For one thing, it eats away at our self-esteem. The happier or more successful others seem to be, the less confident we feel about our own chances at happiness and success. And the less confidence we have, the less likely we’ll try new things that might help us feel better about ourselves.
We also might find ourselves feeling jealous, or even spiteful, toward someone who seems to have a better life than we do. These are the kinds of feelings that slowly eat away at relationships, causing them to collapse. We’re talking about dangerous territory here.
If we spend too much time comparing ourselves with others, we end up experiencing the symptoms of depression. That doesn’t mean comparison causes depression. Depression is a specific mental health concern treated through behavioural therapy and medication. What it means is that we feel as though we’re depressed. And if you already suffer from clinical depression and you get caught in the comparison spiral? Well, let’s just say it’s not going to be pretty.
So how do we fix it? The first step is letting yourself in on a dirty little secret. Everyone you know is carefully shaping the image they project to others. Every. Single. Person. Nobody is being completely bare-naked honest about their life. Especially not on Facebook, Twitter, Istagram, or any other social media platform. When our primary exposure to a person’s life is through social media, we see only the best of what is going on. It’s the highlight reel. Ever see a trailer that made the movie seem like it was going to be incredible, only to watch it and be disappointed? Same thing is happening on Facebook.
You’re seeing your friends’ happiest, funniest, most photo-filtered moments. You’re not seeing that they cried this morning because the cat peed on the carpet again and it was just too much to handle. You’re not hearing about the chronic pain they suffer from. You’re not witnessing the fearfulness and uncertainty they feel when they find out their spouse just got laid off. Again.
Nobody’s life is as problem free as it seems. Tell yourself that every time you start to think, “This would never happen to…”, or, “Why can’t I have fun like…” That’s step one.
Step two is taking a good hard look at what’s right about your life. Grab a notebook and start a gratitude journal. Every day, just jot down three things you’re thankful for. Don’t repeat any. How soon do you think you’ll run out of things to write down? A week? A month? I bet you won’t ever run out. Because the more you practice identifying the good in your life, the easier it gets to spot. Gratitude is the key to happiness.
And from gratitude comes generosity. That’s step 3. Pick a friend and give them a call. Meet them for coffee or drinks and have a real conversation. Ask questions. Encourage them. Chances are they’re going through something hard. Most of us are, most of the time. Find out what it is and help in any way you can. You’ll make both of you feel better.
The last step, of course, is to teach all this to your kids. Comparing yourself to others starts early. We owe it to our kids to let them know that life is tough, but it’s tough for everybody, and we need to help each other out.