Comparisons: A constant source of unhappiness

The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” has traditionally been used to describe the act of competing with the neighbours – whether it’s your house, car, presentation of your front garden or even the grades your children get at school.

In his book “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science”, Richard Layard describes how we are now doing this all of the time, not just with those living in our street but also with others in our extending social circles.

So much so that, given the following choice between living in 2 imaginary worlds, most of us make a surprising choice:

  1. You get $50,000 a year, whilst others get $25,000 (average)
  1. You get $100,000 a year, whilst others get $250,000 (average)

A group of Harvard students were given this exact conundrum, and most of them come Option 1. It seems that we care a lot more about our relative income, and most of us would be willing to accept a significant fall in our living standards, as long as we could move up compared with other people.

<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Credit: aitoff</a>

In the more connected world we now live in, these comparisons are relentless. We scroll through our Facebook and Instagram feeds on our commute, constantly comparing the curated, positively-spun lifestyles of our Facebook “friends” to how we are feeling at that moment in time. Worse yet, the younger generations are able to keep closer tabs on their favourite celebrities, who themselves offer an overwhelmingly glamorous, filtered view of what their world looks like – one which is far from realistic.

We are, therefore, not only comparing ourselves more and more, but also with individuals who we don’t truly know that are outside of our real-life social circles. (I had to ‘cleanse’ my own Facebook “friends” after a number of years, when I realised I hadn’t exchanged any sort of communication with many of them for years).

Whether it’s the money that you earn, the clothes that you wear, or the body that you possess, this constant comparison can chip away at our psychological health and overall wellbeing, not to mention our self-esteem and sense of self.

The solution? It remains to be seen just how much of an impact social media is having on our long-term health (though, unsurprisingly, early studies are already linking increased use of Facebook and other forms of social media with greater levels of unhappiness and depression).

For now, we can combat this by:

  • Making a conscious effort to stop making comparisons
  • Practice self-love and compassion (e.g. mindfulness, loving-kindness meditation)
  • Practice gratitude: taking notice of what we have, rather than we perceive is missing from our lives that others have
  • Limit our social media use – and, perhaps, there is an argument to keeping interactions merely for our real-life, close social circles


This article first appeared on QuarterLifeIntrovert: read more articles and find out more about Jas right here.

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