Constantly comparing yourself with others invariably ends up making you dissatisfied and unhappy

“Oh! They have a better house”, “His job is so amazing,” “I want that sports car too”…. Comparing partners, looks, clothes, lifestyle, status and social lives — the list is endless. If our friend cooks better than us, or has incredible travel plans lined up, we are at once acutely aware of our own inadequacy. As author Christine Organ says, “Deep down, people compare almost everything — who has more friends, who is happier, who is more laidback, who is more popular, who is more outgoing. There are also a lot of internal comparisons going on, when we compare our current situation to our expectations of ourselves (realistic or not) and what we would like our situation to be.”

Comparison stems from lack of self-esteem and acceptance. In some cases, it’s a behaviour we have learnt from parents and teachers, who repetitively have compared us to various role models. At an impressionable age we are expected to measure up to that smart kid in class or to our perfect sibling. The digital media creates a wider circle for us to make comparisons — including people whom we barely know.

It is our wounded ego that pushes us to make comparisons. We can never feel truly adequate when we compare because there will always be someone whom we perceive is better than us. And it becomes increasingly difficult for people to be happy with themselves since they feel threatened by someone else’s accomplishments.

What comparison does

Having our mind measure our worthiness and using someone else as a barometer, minimises our happiness. It makes us dissatisfied and resentful. Many major life decisions are fuelled by this dissatisfaction. For instance, teaching might be a passion for some, but they feel pressured to join the corporate realm since all their friends are doing so. Also, when we try to imitate others, we are slow to realise our own talents and preferences.

We look to people as benchmarks and examples of what we need to do in order to grow, but this is dangerous when it morphs from learning into devaluing ourselves. When we constantly compare ourselves to others we fall into an emotional trap, because the targets are often ill-defined, ever changing and unattainable. We choose the best attributes of one individual as well as of another and so on to create a composite picture of a perfect person and then measure ourselves against that image. There is no way we can ever win.

There are repercussions caused both by upward and downward comparisons. “If you’re comparing yourself to someone and feel you’re doing worse than them, then you feel depressed. If you compare yourself to someone and feel you’re doing better, it’s a fleeting feeling and doesn’t make you feel good for long. I think it is one thing to admire someone else and say, ‘I really like how that person does XYZ. I’d like to learn to do more of that,’ and something else to say, ‘That person is doing so much better/worse than me, now I feel terrible/awesome.’ “It becomes dangerous when your feelings about yourself depend on how you believe you compare to someone else,” says body image coach Golda Poretsky. The goal should be consistent self-esteem that isn’t dependent on tearing someone else down.

How to minimise

First, things aren’t always what they seem, even among close-knit people. If you bump into a successful friend at a café, chances are he won’t reveal his worries, making you overestimate his happiness. We feel bitter because we compare a distorted reality of someone else’s struggles with incomplete knowledge. Our smarter, famous and luckier friends also have their own set of fears, problems and insecurities.

A realistic yardstick is to compare ourselves alone, self-improvement being the goal. To reflect on our journey and growth so far would be more productive. Instead of thinking that you can’t draw or dance like someone else, enjoy these activities, giving them your best shot.

When you indulge in negative thinking and subconsciously compare yourself to someone else, let these be passing thoughts instead of remaining focussed on them.

Feel genuinely happy for people and be vocal about it. We all go through life at our own pace and calling. We just have to acknowledge our self-worth and value our own ways of expressing ourselves. The butterfly called ‘happiness’ sitting on our shoulder will be visible to us if we seriously stop indulging in this contest of comparison.