While enabling us to network and connect with distant friends, social media can also have unhealthy side effects, encouraging negative social comparison, which can lead to rumination and depression (Feinstein et al, 2013).
This summer I experienced a minor version of this myself. Smiling, I watched my tomato plants grow, blossom, set fruit, and gradually ripen. Some days I’d harvest a handful of these small miracles from my garden. But when two friends posted a picture on Facebook of one day’s harvest—a whole bucket full of tomatoes--suddenly my tomatoes seemed inferior in comparison.
Comparison—Facebook readily lends itself to the comparison game, a game we cannot win. My friend Molly complained that one Facebook friend had announced her engagement, and others had gotten a promotion, a book contract, or had moved to London to begin a new career. And here she was between relationships, between jobs, trying to make her dreams come true when it seemed like everyone else was leaving her in the dust.
Weddings, promotions, books, dream jobs, international travel—images like this can nag at us, make us feel inadequate, like awkward teenagers, trying to fit in. The inner critic hisses that we’re “not attractive enough,” “not popular enough,” “not good enough.” Comparison is a zero/sum game that implies there’s only a limited amount of good to go around, so one person’s win becomes someone else’s loss. Caught up in this toxic game, we can spiral into frustration, dissatisfaction, and depression.
You can stop playing this game by becoming mindful, noting when you’re comparing yourself to others, and asking:
Then take a deep breath, returning to the present moment to embrace your own unique life, for in all the world there has never been anyone with your fingerprints, your combination of talents, your thoughts and experiences. You can transcend comparison and competition by realizing that you have unique gifts to offer the world. To live in your uniqueness is to live creatively, as your own deepest and most authentic self, discovering new opportunities, experiencing small miracles, finding joy and meaning in making your own music, writing your own story, claiming your own voice.
Feinstein, B. A., Herschenberg, R., Bhatia, V., Latack, J. A., Meuwly, N., & Davila, J. (2013). Negative social comparison on Facebook and depressive symptoms: Rumination as a mechanism. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 161-170.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
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