Social media helps us saturate the internet, documenting and curating our memories. But documentation is not always innocent in nature, and can take its toll on the minds of young people.
Whether it’s seeing an Instagram picture of someone’s wild spring break at an exotic destination or watching a Snapchat video of someone we know having fun at Coachella, consuming content on social media can often spark a sense of FOMO in most people. The inevitability of social comparison is exacerbated by social media, especially among the youth.
Approximately 10% of people’s daily thoughts involve making comparisons of some type, according to researchers at Psychology Today. The word “comparison,” in this case, takes on a rather negative connotation. We have all heard the maxim that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
Our constant online presence makes this phrase especially pertinent to today’s day and age. While the achievements of others can be utilized as motivation to improve our own lives, the superficial nature of the internet makes it difficult to have a healthy approach to comparison and competition.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines social comparison theory as “the proposition that people evaluate their abilities and attitudes in relation to those of others in a process that plays a significant role in self-image and subjective well-being.”
We tend to underestimate our own value and feel inferior when we view someone who appears to be more successful and happier than us living their best lives. This is known as upward social comparison. On the other hand, an overlooked and toxic aspect of comparison is downward social comparison, which is when we negatively view and demean others to make ourselves feel better.
How do we conquer the many downsides of social comparison? First and foremost, we must realize and accept that setting unrealistic standards for ourselves in the context of others is futile. All we can ever be is ourselves, or a better version of ourselves.
Moreover, it's important to practice self-love and reflect on our own flaws and achievements in a vacuum. Meditate on why we compare ourselves in the first place and if comparison is worth the time we waste engaged in it. Finally, do not reduce yourself to mere metrics. GPAs, pounds on a scale or even the dollars in your bank account are all about self-evaluation and improvement. By evaluating our metrics against those of others, we belittle ourselves and our efforts.
The fact that our online social worth is quantified by the metrics of likes, retweets and views can detrimentally impact our self-esteem. Keep in mind that these systems of metrics are designed to visualize how active someone is on social media, not how valued they are in society. These metrics help businesses and organizations thrive from a marketing perspective, but on a quotidian level, they're meaningless and time-consuming. Therefore, it's important that we don’t use them as a means of personal validation and empowerment.
Michael Perez, a School of Engineering first-year, thinks that a great way to escape comparison culture is to change our approach to social media.
“I believe social media has a negative effect on the way we deal with comparison culture. With social media being easily accessible, people have many different ways to compare themselves. Appearances are so much easier to compare online, which can really make people feel bad about themselves," he said. "Instagram, for example, is just for pictures and videos. People scrolling through their feed can see other people and then try to compare themselves. The best way I deal with comparison culture is to just focus on the positives in life and try to not compare myself to others often."