Sharing your children’s adorable pictures, finding that perfect recipe for a budget friendly freezer meal or keeping in touch with family that lives out of town may be a few of the positive aspects of our social media heavy society. With all of our social media, we are able to find quick answers, social connection and support faster than ever before but if we are not cautious, we can get swept up in the critical world of online comparison. Like never before we have a window into the world of those around us, or at least the polished, filtered and chosen window that we are allowed to see based on what people choose to post, share and Instagram. That is an important distinction for several reasons. Theodore Roosevelt is credited with saying “comparison is a thief of joy” and I often share this idea with my clients (and myself) because all too often we get swept up in the “shoulds” that we feel we “should” be doing, eating, owning or whatever the next thing may be. We are often left feeling discontent rather than looking at what is right in front of us and how we can work to be happy, focused and content with our own reality.
That constant looking into someone else’s reality and measuring our success by someone else’s accomplishments can lead not only to lost joy but to anxiety, depression, anger, debt and ongoing dissatisfaction. A more updated version of that quote states “don’t compare your real life to someone else’s online content” and from my perspective that is the key here. When we compare ourselves to other’s online lives, we are competing with their “highlight reel” so to speak. We are comparing our day to day, tired, unfiltered, coffee lacking, kiddos crying, disorganized, cluttered lives with the picture perfect social media profiles so easily accessible to us any time, any day. We are also not giving ourselves space to enjoy the things we really like, say a particular hobby, vacation or recipe that others may not seem to post about very often. Either way, this is an unfair game. So, what can we do to reduce the power of comparison and take back control of our joy?
First, make the conscious effort to limit and prioritize your time on social media. If you find yourself falling down the “whoa their life is way better than mine” rabbit hole get out as quickly as you can! Close the app, turn off your computer, shift focus to something else that is productive rather than something that is actively negating a positive outlook or good mood. There are even apps such as Offtime and Moment that can help you reduce unnecessary social media surfing that may be negatively impacting your mood.
Second, remind yourself that you can be happy for others and what they post on social media without it becoming a competition or comparison game. If you are proud of someone for earning their doctorate degree, it doesn’t mean your work in your master’s program is any less impressive. If you click like on a picture of a delicious meal someone had on vacation, it doesn’t have to mean that you aren’t satisfied with the take out Chinese in front of you (or that impressive freezer meal that you found online a few months back!). Choosing to enjoy what you have in each moment is an important tool to have in your mood regulation tool kit. It helps us enjoy the small things as well as the big achievements while also being able to share joy with others.
Third, take some time to search within yourself for what you do want to accomplish, what your next goal may be or why a particular post on social media brings out the comparison monster for you. Is it that someone’s post creates a “supposed to” timeline for you or makes you feel as though you are not “doing it right?” You are the writer of your story, it is okay to be on your own timeline and make your own goals. Sometimes if we are feeling dissatisfied it is because there is a goal or next step that we are wanting to take and may need to find our own inner clarity and motivation to take that scary first step. That is absolutely okay. This may be an area where you can seek out a trusted friend or a therapist to help you think through your goals and desires for your life. It also may be that you realize you are okay to not be on that timeline or goal trajectory. You can do your own thing. Again, just because someone else is accomplishing something doesn’t mean you aren’t meeting your own goals too.
Lastly, check in with your own motives when posting online. Are you spending beyond budget to create an online life that others will covet yet you still aren’t satisfied? Does your page accurately reflect your authentic self and if not, what may need to change to better reflect who you really are? You are enough and you are worthy. It is fun to share our trips, meals and adventures with those who care enough to “follow” but if it isn’t your genuine self they aren’t getting to connect with you in a genuine way. Be yourself.
These steps may be challenging but in the end, it can help reduce the anxiety and depression often related to social media exposure and the difficulty of comparing ourselves to others. As I said before, you are enough. You get to write the story of your life and you get to be the author, editor and filter. Explore who you are as your authentic self. Journal, go to a therapist, schedule time for yourself or with a close friend. Discover what makes you truly tick and find what truly makes you happy. Fiercely pursue that path. Be who you are, where you are and with what you have…find happiness in that and the joy that comparison tried to steal from you will return in full. Enjoy your life. You are worth it.