I’ve been told time and time again that I shouldn’t compare myself to other people’s lives, and I completely agree with it. But it’s also the hardest thing to do. I even left social media so I wouldn’t and I STILL have a problem with comparing myself.
Turns out, we humans might just be hardwired that way. Social psychologists Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer wrote a book all about it, citing studies of monkeys and moving onto humans. Check this out, my dudes:
University scientist Frans de Waal. De Waal trained capuchin monkeys to essentially use stones as a kind of currency, exchanging one for a nice cucumber slice. The monkeys were perfectly happy with this arrangement, until de Waal started giving some, but not all, of the monkeys a sweet, juicy grape instead of the cucumber.
“Upon seeing this inequity, the monkey who was offered the regular cucumber went, well, apeshit,” Galinsky and Schweitzer write. The monkeys who perceived themselves as receiving a lesser deal became visibly upset, refusing to pay for the cucumber or sometimes throwing the slice back in the experimenter’s face.
And I thought that I was petty for deleting people from social media. (Note: it is a healthy thing to do even if you feel mega-guilty about it, which is a tendency of mine, but I am also much happier for it, although it’s easier to just leave social media altogether.)
They then move onto the human example:
For a human example of this phenomenon, Galinsky and Schweitzer tell the story of a man named Scott Crabtree, who had dutifully climbed the corporate ladder at his company, steadily earning incremental raises. He was fine with this — until, that is, a just-out-of-college kid was hired and immediately began earning almost the exact same salary as him, a figure that had taken Crabtree decades to earn. The infuriating comparison made him so unhappy that he soon left the company, where he’d happily worked for many years.
So – I’m not alone in my jealousies and rivalries and schadenfreude when someone I can’t stand fails in their endeavors.
The biggest takeaway from the article is to let these jealousies and rivalries motivate you, rather than completely ruin your life. If you’re jealous of someone, figure out what they have that you want – and then go for it – within reason. We’re not killing anyone’s spouses.
The only problem – and the article points this out – is that rivalries can only motivate you so far. Sure, if you’re running a race against that jerk who somehow effortlessly excels at everything s/he does, then by all means race your heart out. But then if you end up finishing behind that person, well, you’re kind of miserable.
It’s tough balancing cooperation and competition, but the authors don’t necessarily advocate one over the other. It’s dynamic balancing act:
Galinksy and Schweitzer write that “when it comes to using social comparison to boost your own motivation, here is the key rule to keep in mind: Seek favorable comparisons if you want to feel happier, and seek unfavorable comparisons if you want to push yourself harder.” You may not be able to quit your social-comparison habit, but you can learn to make it work for you.
My personal take? Let jealousy motivate you to get out of a rut, but maybe rein in the schadenfreude. Even when it is so, so tempting.