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The Psychology of Comparison: A Leading Cause of Unhappiness

Many people find themselves seeking out the help of a therapist due to “unhappiness”. Whether it is their job, their relationships, self-esteem, or everything all bundled into one, clients are often discussing their discontent. I have found there is a common denominator within these discussions with clients: Comparison.

We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. This is a daily activity that many people do not consciously acknowledge, however they feel the effects of comparing quite instantly. When they do realize this action, they are surprised to discover just how impactful comparing is to their happiness. Social media has made it tremendously easier to compare our lives to others constantly. Suddenly, pictures and check-ins make us feel that our lives are not as perfect as the person posting. Someone is always doing something bigger and better than what we are doing. It is a constant beat down to our egos and self-worth.

Many people find themselves unhappy because they are not moving at the same pace as others and society has handed out a precise timeline for when life events should occur. Get married by 27, have kids before 30, land a job right out of school, and we hold ourselves to these standards. Then feel unaccomplished and unhappy when we fail to meet the marker. We compare our paths to the path society says we should be on. However, everyone is different in many ways so this notion does not work for most people anyway.

Maybe you find yourself asking “Well why does she have a great marriage, and I don’t?” or “Why does he get the raise and not me?” Maybe your comparison sounds something like “I want to look like that” or “Their house is nicer”. There will always be bigger, faster, stronger, prettier, richer, ect… what is most important is the answer to the question, are you living up to your own expectations and standards? Society’s idea of rich, successful, and happy may not be the same for you. We need to stop assuming that others have it so much better and turn our focus to ourselves. If we are not happy, it is not because someone is better off, it is because we feel happiness is not in our control. Once we take responsibility and acknowledge that we do have the power to create our own happiness we begin to lead the lives we wanted.

As for the time line of life, everyone travels at their own pace and that is okay. I encourage clients to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Life is constantly changing and if we are never shaken and uncomfortable we never grow and discover. Some of the most uncomfortable times in my life have turned into the best lessons! Figure out your wants and your needs and do not settle for the common. Live up to your own expectations and standards and disregard the criticism that may come from others (they are still comparing themselves). Once we start concerning ourselves with just ourselves, we open the door for many opportunities to happiness.