Comparison in the Social Media Age

Theodore Roosevelt believed that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

With this in mind – I unplugged from social media a few years ago.

In the beginning it was weird living without my timeline and a place to post all my happy photos and exciting news. But eventually it began to feel more organic. Phoning a friend with good news became less awkward. Arranging a dinner party through physical invites less tedious. I began to look forward to going over photos in person while laughing and telling the stories behind them. After a while I wondered why I previously posted photos in a frenzy as if I were releasing a CD be reviewed, admired, and critiqued.

This isn’t a rant about the evils of social media because we all know the ways in which it enhances our lives and increases inter-connectivity. Facebook makes it effortless to connect to far away friends and relatives and give them a glimpse into your life that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Social media can bring awareness to incredible causes like activism, charity, and education.

But, there can be a dark underbelly to the act of constantly polishing up our online lives for consumption and viewing the meticulously polished lives of others.

A few studies have been completed on the subject, one notable one by Jordan, Monin, Dweck, Lovett, John, & Gross in 2011. Their study found that heavy social media use can lead to symptoms of depression and inadequacy:

People tend to underestimate others’ negative emotions…  those afflicted with emotional difficulties may fail to recognize others’ internal struggles, which may compound feelings of loneliness and isolation.  – Jordan et al., 2011

Comparison happens. We ALL compare ourselves to others and it’s not always a bad thing! I compare my actions to those I admire or deeply respect. I ask: I am being as inclusive and kind to others as my personal idols? Am I being open and curious or am I closing off because I’m afraid of the unknown? Holding yourself to a standard that you truly believe in is a good thing. But comparing things like looks, lifestyle, career, and money can lead to depression and anxiety.


Below is an excerpt from Alice Walton’s article about Facebook and Depression :

“You should feel good after using Facebook . . .However, the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms. If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.”

For me, the constant status updates, tweets, and throwin’ photos on “the gram” felt a little forced. By only uploading my bright happy smiles I ignored the valuable lessons attached to the tears cried along the way.

I’ve learned so much from those less glamorous, quiet moments that aren’t captured on the “highlight reels”. And I’ve accepted the fact that I am not grandiose. I don’t value fame and fortune above all else and I am not overly concerned with status. I still cry at sad movies and hold the utmost respect for my parents. I like things that are deemed too pedestrian in a culture that’s more obsessed with shock value and entertainment than actual substance and kindness. I am plain and unimpressive at times and don’t need to constantly buzz, sparkle, rebuild, attract, network, consume, and react. Often times, I simply enjoy just BEING.

BEING (instead of showing, watching and obsessing) was easier to do sans social media, for me. But quitting isn’t necessary if you don’t want to. Here are some tips I suggest for social media users who desire happier more fulfilling interactions:

1) Commit to being CONSCIOUS of how and when you use social media.
Are you building others up? Are you encouraging and connecting with loved ones? Or are you being your worst critic and lamenting over perfect photos of people who really may not matter? Do you only run to social media when you’re feeling down in the dumps? If yes – do know that logging on and comparing yourself to others is almost guaranteed to make you feel worse? Being conscious means using social media and interacting with intent.

2) Create and enjoy content that’s REAL and true to you!
Are you allowing your self esteem to be measured in clicks and likes – or are you creating and sharing content that truly enriches people’s lives? Are you being respectful of your morals and ideals while online? Better yet – are you being respectful of others? Making content that’s true to yourself and not solely designed to garner attention is a surefire way to feel good about yourself. People feel better when they are authentic. Bonus: authentic people are received better by others as well! So be yourself, always.

3) Limit your usage when dealing with a depressive episode. 
If you’re having a depressive episode – consider steering away from social media until you feel more stable and positive. Viewing photos of your friends having the time of their lives while you feel down in the dumps is not going to cheer you up. Even if those photos are carefully crafted, curated, and/or photoshopped. Instead of passively consuming media during these episodes – I suggest engaging mindfully in your favorite healthy hobby or activity. Do something you know will improve your mood. Talk to someone about your feelings and get it all out. Then unwind and watch your favorite show, learn a new recipe, go for a quick jog.

Conscious usage of social media is something we could all engage in to create a happier (online) world!

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Additional reading: I suggest reading Essena O’Neill’s story about quitting social media after being an “instagram celebrity”.