An illogical distress it is, but then we’re all a big mangled mess of logical thoughts and intense, primal feelings. Time and again, all of us fall into the trap of social comparisons, which Sonja Lyyubomirsky, the author of The How of Happiness says is a surefire way of reducing our happiness.
We are well aware of the dangers of comparing ourselves with those we view as “better-off” than us (though we often lack self-control required to stop us from making these comparisons). As Sonja notes:
“Upward” comparisons (e.g., “He’s paid a higher salary,” “She’s thinner”) may lead to feelings of inferiority, distress, and loss of self-esteem.
Though we’re more keenly aware of the unhappiness-causing power of upward comparisons, downward comparisons can be equally debilitating.Why? Sonja writes:
While “downward” comparisons (e.g., “He got laid off,” “Her cancer’s spread”) may lead to feelings of guilt, the need to cope with others’ envy and resentment, and fears of suffering the same (equally bad) fate.
For instance, in The Dance of Fear, Harriet Lerner, a psychologist, writes about how many of her patients feel guilty coming to her, because they feel their own suffering is less than than of other people who are suffering more. Their own suffering does not seem to be deserving of care.
So, what are some strategies to avoid the trap of social comparisons? Here are some that Sonja puts forward in her book (do check it out for color on each of these).
1. Distract, distract, distract:
Good bets are activities that make you feel happy, curious, peaceful, amused, or proud.
2. The “Stop” technique:
..think, say, or even shout to yourself, “Stop,” or “No!” when you find yourself resuming overthinking.
3. Put rumination on the schedule:
..set aside thirty minutes every day to do nothing but ruminate.
4. Talk to someone you trust:
…talk to a sympathetic and trusted person about your thoughts and troubles. [What makes a good confidante? Read here.]
5. Act to solve problems:
…this step jump-starts you into trying to solve the very real, concrete problems that might inspire your overthinking.
6. Dodge overthinking triggers:
…write a list of situations (places, times, and people) that appear to trigger your overthinking. If at all possible, avoid those situations or modify them just enough to thwart their ability to trigger an episode of overthinking.
7. Take in the big picture:
Ask yourself: Will this matter in a year?
Distance yourself from rumination even further by contemplating your particular problem in the context of space and time.
Finally, if you resolve that the trouble you’re enduring now is indeed significant and will matter in a year, then consider what the experience can teach you. Focusing on the lessons you can learn from a stress, irritant, or ordeal will help soften its blow. The lessons that those realities impart could be patience, perseverance, loyalty, or courage. Or perhaps you’re learning open-mindedness, forgiveness, generosity, or self-control.