Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Got Happiness? Social Comparison Theory Can Help!

Minimize upward social comparisons for a happier life.

We all want to be happy or at least satisfied with our lives. In order to increase the odds of happiness and life satisfaction we really need to be mindful of social comparison theory and how it may impact the reflections that we make on our lives. In a nutshell, we constantly compare ourselves with others and then make judgments about the quality of our life based on these observations. We reflect on how well or bad we have it based on the perceived good or bad comparisons found among others. There are upward comparisons (i.e., observing people who seem to have it better than us when it comes to money, looks, resources, talents) and downward comparisons (i.e., observing people who seem to have it worse than we do regarding these qualities that we desire). We often feel better about ourselves and our lives when making downward comparisons and feel bad about ourselves when making upward comparisons.

With the advent of Facebook and other social media technology and services as well as mass media in general we have many more opportunities than ever to compare our lives with those of others (including those we know and those we don't know at all). "Keeping up with the Jones" is no longer just a neighborhood thing but is a national and global thing! This is both a good thing and a really bad thing in my view. For example, Facebook highlights upward comparisons. People generally post things about themselves and their loved ones that are highly favorable. Reality and talk shows cut both ways but often they highlight downward comparisons showing how messed up the lives of many really are... even among some of the most famous celebrities.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

So, in order for you to maximize happiness and life satisfaction you'll want to be well aware of the influence and power of social comparison theory and make efforts to avoid upward comparisons as much as you can. This is one of the reasons why people often feel good when they hear about the troubles of others. It is sad but true that many experience some form guilty pleasure in learning about troubles that happen to those who they previously felt had it all. It is one of the reasons why so many people love celebrity as well as neighborhood gossip. This is also why many feel better about themselves when they do volunteer or charitable work among the poor and marginalized. Helping those in need make us feel good for a variety of reasons one of which is that it reinforces that our lives are pretty good after all. 

Let social comparison theory work for you. As they say, knowledge is power and your happiness in life may be enhanced if you can better manage your social comparisons.

So, what do you think?

 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

more...

Subscribe to Do the Right Thing

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?