I bet most of us have compared and despaired at some point. I definitely have. I was especially guilty of doing this when I was an impressionable teen, and later while climbing the corporate ladder in the fashion industry. I became more self-aware as I approached 40, breaking the futile cycle that was preventing me from accomplishing my goals and feeling content.
It’s human to compare ourselves and our lives to others. But that can turn into despair when we start thinking we’re not sufficiently attractive, toned, fit, healthy, slender, clever, eloquent, witty, wealthy, worldly, disciplined, organized, strong or accomplished. We feel inferior, especially when we compare our weaknesses with others’ strengths, and what we don’t have with what others do have. It can easily lead to a self-destructive, downward spiral that’s a waste of energy and cerebral capacity. Our energies are much better spent focussing on the positive aspects of our lives, and the constructive changes we want to make.
One new development that heightened the compare and despair cycle in the last decade is social media. As wonderful as the technology is for connecting us, it also creates an unrealistic picture of our lives. It’s natural for us to post things that are happy, inspirational or aesthetically pleasing. Euphoric moments, the best pictures we take, and the things that make us most proud.
I’m guilty of this. I’m almost always upbeat online, and deliberately so. I very seldom post about things in life that are sad or tragic, because I am a private person and I do not dwell on the negative. That doesn’t mean that my life is always stress-free and happy. Far from it.
Of course, so-called social influencers take this to a whole new level. It is their job to be inspirational and aspirational. Some have taken this to an extreme, where what they post is intentionally a somewhat fictional persona based on reality, rather than a transparent reflection of their every day lives. Celebrities have been doing this since celebrities existed. The world of social media has merely opened the opportunity of building an audience to a wider range of people.
The fact is that we never really know what is going on in a person’s life unless they share that information with us. We all have our challenges, big and small, even when we don’t speak about them openly and publicly. Intentionally or unintentionally, people tend to create an outward facing impression that is an idealized version of what’s really going on in their lives. This is something I try to keep in mind when I stumble across a social influencer, celebrity, friend, colleague or family member who appears to have an easy and perfect life.
In my experience, there will always be someone who is doing better than you by some measure, and that’s so okay. When I started to accept, appreciate and celebrate who I was, I started to aspire to being a better version of myself rather than an inauthentic version of someone else. I try to focus my energies on the positive aspects of my life, and the constructive changes I want to make. I try to view others as inspiration, not competition. I have found this liberating. And I believe it has made me more accepting of others.
We have the power to think positively. We can use that power to look for the happiness that exists in ours lives, and, as much as possible, choose joy.