Why do we compare ourselves to others?
At this time of year, many of us are trying to keep our New Year resolutions. Striving to improve our habits, behaviors or situations. The beginning of the year provides us with great motivation for change and improvement because so many others are doing the same thing. We have strength in numbers. Enthusiasm is high, for a while, then it becomes tough to stick to our commitments. When you break your resolution and give up, it’s very tempting to look at others and wonder, “How can they so easily do what I am struggling to?”
Let me say right away, that this is normal human behavior. Leon Festinger proposed a theory in 1954 that suggested that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves, often in comparison to others. The American Psychological Association reports that this comparison happens subliminally and automatically. So, don’t fret, you are not alone.
Are you conscious that you compare yourself to others? If so, how does it make you feel? Studies show it rarely makes anyone feel better when they compare their situation to others, regardless of whether they are of a lower standing or higher. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of comparisons and you can decide if you want more or less of it in your life.
What can be good about comparisons?
The Comparison Theory suggests that we compare ourselves to others to gather information, to assess how we’re doing. This can help us do a reality check and self-assess.
When we compare ourselves to people who we believe to be more fortunate than us, we can use this as an opportunity to learn.
When we compare ourselves to people who we believe to be less fortunate than us, we can use this as an opportunity to practice gratitude and drive ourselves to help others.
Acknowledging and respecting someone else’s achievements can be a source of motivation for us to work harder to achieve our own desires.
What’s not so good about comparisons?
The majority of times we compare ourselves unfavorably to others, we don’t do it with a learner’s mindset, we do it to see how we stack up against them. This has the potential to damage our self-esteem and we run the risk of becoming jealous and bitter.
When we compare ourselves more favorably to others, we risk elevating our egos to the point of smugness at the expense of others.
Comparing ourselves unfavorably to others often leads to mimicking the actions or behaviors of the person we see as better. This can cause us to lose sight of who we are, the unique qualities that make us individuals. It can steer us towards a path that was meant for somebody else and is not in line with our personal values.
We compare ourselves against our perception of how someone else is. This perception is not reality. There are many times when we fail to consider important information that is not available to us. In short, our comparisons are too subjective to be accurate.