Does your life seem boring, miserable or unfulfilling?
We’ve got the solution!
But wait, you say, how could you possibly have the solution right here in this mental health article? How could it be that easy?
Okay, granted, we’re not touting this as the key to eternal happiness. It’s not a “quick fix” to make your life 100% better. But if practiced consistently and genuinely over time, this simple strategy can be a great ally.
So what is it?
Stop comparing your life to the snapshots you see on social media!
There’s no way that anybody’s life could be nearly as good as the highlights many people choose to share on Instagram, Facebook and the like.
So why do we get stuck in the comparison trap? And how do we get un-stuck?
That’s today’s topic in the Capital Choice Counselling blog.
What made us jealous before social media came along? Why is it different today?
In the days before the advent of social media, we essentially had one main source of envy in life: the rich and famous. For centuries, they were the primary target of our combined hyper-curiosity and uber-jealousy. Even in the modern era and up until the last decade or so, we would spend far more time gawking at celebrities in gossip magazines and on TV shows.
Oh sure, we reserved a bit of envy for those around us, the neighbour who had a nicer house or the colleague who drove a more expensive car. But we usually didn’t get much more than a peek into their lives, and while it seemed good, we still somehow figured they were more or less “just like us.”
Celebrity status still exists today, of course. And their lives are just as extravagant, if not more so. But while we hold their wealth and fame in a vaunted level of esteem, we also view their lives as somehow being “different.” In our perceptions, these are not mere mortals but rather people who’d hit the jackpot in life and transcended the chasm from everyday people to superstars.
With social media, we still gawk at celebrities’ lives too. Athletes and entertainers have millions of followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We can even interact with them – to a certain degree, anyhow, if “liking” or commenting on a post represents interaction (it might, if by chance they actually reply).
So what’s different about social media?
It has created the perception that a ‘regular’ person can have a great life.
Well, yes, of course! That statement is as true as you want it to be. You design your life. You can live the life you want.
But social media is also having a reverse effect. It has taken people at “our level” and placed their lives in an elevated position, one which we react to by feeling inferior about our own lives.
That neighbour with the bigger house? The colleague with the more expensive car? We can be ‘friends’ with them on Facebook, see their posts on Instagram, and get a bigger peek at what their lives must be like.
And those lives, the lifestyles of these supposedly “regular” people who were “just like us?” Their lives seem fantastic! Apparently, all they ever do is travel, go to the beach with that perfect swimsuit body, eat amazing food (and still fit into that swimsuit!), and have kids who do nothing but win awards and become prom queens, valedictorians, doctors and lawyers.
Great. Another group of people whose existence is that much better than ours! Wait, no, this is even worse. Why? Because those people were supposed to be just like us! And they’re not!! They’re better!!!
This is a recipe for depression, anxiety and stress if there ever were one.
They’re not better; they’re just posting their highlight reel!
But here’s the secret. Those people we know with the amazing lifestyles on Facebook and Instagram? Their lives probably aren’t any better than ours. They’re just showing us one facet of their existence, and it’s a grandiose one at that.
Everything we see is exactly what they’ve chosen for us to see. It’s been hand selected to share only the highlights of their lives.
Imagine a professional baseball player putting together a “highlight reel,” showing hit after hit, home run after towering home run, with screaming fans and awards and trophies galore. If that’s all you saw, you’d think this was the greatest player who ever lived.
But the average pro still bats less than .300, meaning he only gets a hit less than 30% of the time. That highlight reel is missing all the strikeouts, all the times a batter swings and misses. None of the hard work appears on the highlight reel, not the countless hours in the gym nor the years of riding buses from town to town while toiling in the minor leagues. All we see are the home-run swagger and the first-class lifestyle.
Same goes for our friends and acquaintances on social media. Probably even lower, as far as “hit” percentage goes.
The ones that post only their trips to Tahiti or meals at Michelin-star restaurants? They’re leaving out most of their lives! They’re not posting about the trips to the doctor, the dinner that consisted of a wilted salad and a stale sandwich, being stuck in endless traffic to/from work, or doing their taxes.
While social media gives the appearance that we’re sharing the details of our lives with other people, the reality is that we’re only seeing a snapshot of those lives, a carefully curated version of what people want us to see. Are they going out of their way to make us jealous? Not necessarily. But that’s the effect social media can have.
Of course, not everyone on social media behaves this way. There are those who are “unfiltered,” who share it all, good and bad. Their aim seems to be to create a “genuine” appearance. Whether that’s good or bad, at least they’re giving us a truer basis for comparison.
Don’t compare your life as a whole to someone else’s highlight reel; better yet, don’t compare at all!
Comparing our lives to the lives of other people isn’t really a formula for happiness at all. In fact, it’s become known as the “comparison trap,” something that’s best avoided. Why? This kind of comparison has a deleterious effect on:
- our confidence
- our self-esteem
- our sense of perspective.
Social media multiplies the effect.
“It creates a tsunami of excess information at warp speed, which could intensify the effects,” says Princeton University psychologist Susan Fiske, who came up with the term “envy up, scorn down” which addresses the feelings provoked when we compare ourselves to others.
Okay, so we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others; how, then, do we improve?
While it’s important to observe life around us and to learn from others (and be inspired by them), perhaps it’s best if we focus on our own journey of continuous self-improvement.
A good goal to begin with is self-acceptance.
If we accept ourselves – all sides of our lives, the good, bad & ugly – this can go a good way towards making life less difficult. It’s an effective method of taking the pressure off ourselves. The sooner we stop comparing our existence to the perceived benchmarks supposedly set by others, the quicker we’ll be on our way to a state of contentment.
If you think about, this is how we build an authentic life. It’s not to say that we won’t experience the down cycles that life can offer. Quite the contrary; life is challenging for everyone, and for some it means coping with mental health and emotional health issues.
For someone who is coping with depression or anxiety, for example, comparing your life to the lifestyle of someone you see on Instagram is hardly fair to yourself! Wouldn’t it feel a lot better not to worry about what someone else might or might not be doing, and instead focus on how you can make your own life better?
That’s a good starting point. Rather than asking how you can be like so-and-so, instead ask this question:
What can I do today that my future self will thank me for?
What plan can you make, what actions can you take, that will make your life better?
What would you like your life to look like? What changes can you start on now that will pay dividends down the road – six months from now, a year, two years, etc.?
Maybe it’s career that you want to focus on.
Maybe you have a goal of traveling to a special place, one that you’ve been dreaming of.
Maybe it’s saving up to send your daughter or son to university.
Whatever your goals and plans are, make sure that their yours – that they have deep meaning for you, uniquely, and that they’re not just emulating someone else. Cliché as it may be, hard work, focus and perseverance will do far more good than jealousy ever will.
Capital Choice Counselling – Ottawa’s Resource for Helping to Create the Life You Desire
Struggling to put together a map for your journey to a better life? Caught in the comparison trap and can’t get out? Feel like you’re nearly there but could use a little boost? At, Capital Choice Counselling in Ottawa, we’re here to help. We offer a network of experienced therapists and counsellors, trained in a diverse range of fields, who have assisted thousands of clients in getting on the right track in life. Contact us today and we’ll connect you to a caring and compassionate counsellor near you.