Humans live and thrive in social groups, but there is a complexity involved to that as well. When people live in close social proximity, they are bound to look at others and compare themselves with others. Nowadays, children look at other children and want the same toys as them. Our habit of social comparison starts very young and it only increases with time. Toys get replaced by clothes, lifestyles and relationships in the process of social comparison as we grow up. And it never ends.
In the past few years, social media has taken over all our lives and has taken social comparison to a whole new level. Social comparison has become even more prevalent in our lives now that we can keep a tab on everything that others are doing. So, we are increasingly becoming pettier about the comparisons. But this is a little more complex than it may seem. So, if we can understand the complexity, we might be able to handle it better.
Social Comparison Theory
Psychologist Leon Festinger was the first scientist to propose this theory in the year 1954. Humans have an innate need to evaluate themselves and their abilities by comparing themselves with others. 1 After Festinger, many researchers have proposed many more theories supporting his claims.
Social comparison can be of two types; upward social comparison and downward social comparison. Upward social comparison is when people look at others who are more accomplished than them to feel inspired and do better. Downward social comparison is when people look at others who are doing worse than them to feel better about themselves. These social comparisons can be helpful sometimes but they can also be harmful.
There are certain factors that are responsible for making this phenomenon either harmful or helpful. Our self-esteem, stress factors in our lives and whether we are engaging in upward or downward social comparison are a few factors that play a big role in this. For example, people who have high self-esteem and less stress in their lives might do better from social comparisons. But people who are low of self-esteem and use downward social comparison to feel better might not do as well under stress. So, the benefits that one can reap from this phenomenon vary with individuals and their situations. 2
How Does Social Comparison Help And Harm Us?
Social comparison can help us when we seek inspiration from others who are doing well. And it can also help us to do better when we become competitive after comparing ourselves with others. So, these scenarios can be helpful for some people. People can do better if they compete with their successful friends and try to achieve success. But remember to know the difference between a true friend and a ‘frenemy’. A true friend would motivate you to do better in life whereas a ‘frenemy’ would always want to one up you.
Sometimes, social comparison can become a big reason for our stress. Social comparison can bring a lot of unhappiness to us when we use others and their lives to compare how we are lagging behind in life. This would only make us feel bad about our lives. For example, when we go through our Facebook feeds and see others doing what we want to do, we automatically start feeling bad about ourselves. This happens to everyone nowadays. But we often forget that our paths are different from others and thus, so are our destinations.
Help Yourself To Do Better With Social Comparison
People can do better in life when they can foresee the traps and perks of social comparison. Find a role model who is not related to you. It is easy to feel motivated by others’ success when they are not related to us. Surround yourself with better people who can motivate you and not bring you down. Avoid ‘frenemies’ as they will always harm you. Help others when they need your help to succeed. Altruism can help you to gain good will among your peers.
Social comparison isn’t always bad if we can protect ourselves from the negative while imbibing the positive.
|↑1||Leon Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory. The Psychology Notes HQ|
|↑2||Aspinwall, Lisa G., and Shelley E. Taylor. “Effects of social comparison direction, threat, and self-esteem on affect, self-evaluation, and expected success.” Journal of personality and social psychology 64, no. 5. 1993.|