I was watching Professor Laurie Santos as part of her Science of Well-Being course on Coursera, where she talks about how to deal with social comparison. She takes a dim view of social media, encouraging students to delete social media apps from their phones, or at least give it up for a week to see how it impacts their wellbeing. This is because one of the biggest obstacles to happiness is comparing our lives to others.
Worse, one of the annoying features of our minds is that we don’t even use reasonable reference points to which we compare ourselves. We compare our lives to celebrities or fictional characters on television shows without knowing we’re doing it. If we only see our friends having a great time on our feeds, such as going on fancy holidays and drinking cocktails, we can feel that our own lives are boring. Once we’ve let those images into our minds, we become vulnerable to feeling worse about ourselves, and always (mis)wanting more.
This is not say that you cannot use social media positively, but it does take intentional effort. So here are some strategies that came up in the course that can help you deal with social comparison on social media:
Use social media to enhance gratitude and savouring
You can use social media to document and capture experiences that you are grateful for. This is good for several reasons: firstly, the pictures can help you remind yourself of positive experiences so you can relive them.
Secondly, the act of taking a picture can enhance your experience in the moment, helping to give you a different perspective of the moment.
Thirdly, it encourages you to share that wonderful experience with others, which will help you savour the moment, and encourage others to respond positively to your experience.
But there are downsides to this too: if you’re too busy trying to get a good picture for Instagram, that can get in the way of you enjoying the moment. You can find yourself so obsessed with taking pictures that you fail to immerse yourself in your moment.
Another downside is that it can make other people feel worse. So while you may feel good about yourself for going on a long distance holiday, someone on the other side of the screen may feel bad about not being able to do the same.
Curate your social media feed
If your feed is full of celebrities, models and influencers, then you are exposing yourself to unreasonable reference points to compare your life to. You are more likely to follow people who already have thousands of followers, making you feel bad about the number of followers that you have.
So one way of making yourself feel better about scrolling through your feed is to follow accounts that promote healthier and more realistic body images. You can unfollow or mute accounts that make you feel bad or inadequate. The Female Lead, for example, found that teenage girls can nurture a more positive self-image when they follow inspirational and diverse female role models on Instagram.
While it is difficult to manage social comparison once you’ve let the images or information into your life, you can take charge of what you choose to let into your social media feeds in the first place.
Catch yourself and say “STOP!”
Whenever you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s, catch yourself doing it and say “Stop!” out loud. This can jolt you out of your negative thought patterns, so you can shift your attention elsewhere.
Delete social media apps from your phone
While most people would say they can’t live without social media, you can expose yourself to it less. Challenge yourself to spend a week without social media on your phone and see how much it impacts your mood. You may discover that you don’t need it as much as you think and that you feel better as a result.
You don’t have to deactivate your accounts, but you can withdraw your attention from the platforms that exploit your tendency to compare yourself to others for profit.
While there are positive aspects to social media, it can be difficult accessing those advantages without experiencing the downsides. So the next time you find yourself comparing your lives to others on social media, try some of the tactics above.