Is it difficult to not compare ourselves with others?

By living in the 21st Century it is quite difficult to get away from social media or not be near it in the first place, and with it, the ability to compare ourselves with others, which in turn makes it increasingly difficult not to do so. But is social media the reason for why such comparisons can exist, or is it something inherently within our human make-up that enables us to compare ourselves with others so easily? Some people may argue that social media has intensified the way it can happen, while others may say that such comparisons have and will always be there. It is also possible that it depends on the type of person you are and what is going on within yourself as to whether comparing yourself with others is something that could become a concern. Therefore, is it difficult to not compare ourselves with others and to also let it affect our lives?

Yes – it is difficult to not compare ourselves with others

Depending on how old a person is, some people will remember a time when social media did not exist. There was a time, probably around fifteen years ago now, that there was no pastime of going onto the internet, or on a phone app, and looking at what your friends or the people you follow online were getting up to. In the opposite way, you couldn’t post about what you were doing, where you were going, who you were in a relationship with and everything else that is going on in your life at any time or on any day. Even so, people comparing their lives with others still existed, it is just now that it is so much easier to see and understand how it can occur and the influence it has the potential to have on people’s mental health.

If being on social media is a pastime and something that is frequently carried out, it can be difficult to get away from what is going on in other people’s lives. A study found that people naturally compare themselves with other people because it helps them to figure out if they are more or less smart, attractive, and accomplished than everyone else. Whether the results from such comparisons allows for any negativity to occur will depend on the person’s own situation. If a person is already feeling low about their life and the situations they are finding themselves in, comparisons between themselves and others can become an instant occurrence, whether that be via social media or not. A couple of examples of this may be someone who has recently broken up with their partner and they see their friends all happy and loved up; or someone may want a career but are having trouble working out what they want to do, but they see and hear their friends talking about their job and getting promoted. These are just two examples of the potential millions of comparisons people could make; looking at other people’s lives in a way that mirrors theirs, but in a negative way. From these examples, such people may wonder why they are the ones that are single while their friends aren’t, and why they may find it so difficult to work out what career they want while their friends find it so easy. But do these people find their job easy? Are these people really so happy and loved up? There is always the possibility that they may want people to think they are when they are actually not. This isn’t just a concern for social media, this is a concern for humankind – people making others believe one thing when really they could be feeling another. Social media can heighten this, but I think it’s very important for anyone constantly comparing themselves with others to be aware that their opinion of whoever they are comparing themselves with may not be the actual truth of the situation.

No – it is not difficult to not compare ourselves with others

Not everyone is as susceptible to the lure of looking deeply into other people’s social media accounts, and perhaps even if they do, they may not view what they find as bleakly as others could do. Even without social media, there is always a possibility of people being very content and happy with their own lives that such comparisons are not even made, or if they are, they are at least not viewed of as negatively when looking at their own lives. Even if people do look at social media and spend hours looking at people’s photos or finding out all they can about them, these people may just be naturally inquisitive and find happiness in looking at what other people are doing in their lives. Such people may also want to know what is going on in people’s lives so they are up-to-date with what is going on with their friends, or they may not see them very often and so can only keep in contact in this way. Being a part of social media is not the aspect which can be harmful, it is what someone then does with what they find, which I spoke about in the previous section. If someone is happy and content with their life, then they would be less likely to compare their own life with that of other people’s.

So, is it difficult to not compare ourselves with others? It definitely can be because social media is such a huge part of our society now, and something that people use in a variety of ways. Even without social media, humans can naturally make comparisons between themselves and others without perhaps even realising it. It is whether those comparisons negatively impact on the way a person thinks and feels that it could become a problem. I think the main thing to remember is that people can post whatever they want online, but it is usually just the good stuff; the filtered photos, the fantastic holidays, their trips, their outings, and how generally great their life is. And the same can be said about what people talk about in a conversation with others. Depending on the type of person and the relationship people have with each other, this can alter the perception people may want to give out. People may want their friends to think they are one thing when really they could be the complete opposite and actually be very unhappy. Social media is one of the biggest ways people can give over a false depiction of their lives, but that can also happen without it. Only the person themselves can truly know how they are feeling and what they think about themselves, but I think in the time we live in, it is difficult to not compare ourselves with others at least on some level, and making such comparisons can be something which negatively affects a person’s mental health.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach