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Archive for January 16th, 2008

We compare ourselves to others. We compare our houses, our cars, our success and even our kids. In some cases, it makes us feel better. We feel better when we compare ourselves to those people who don’t have what we have because it gives us self-enhancement or reassurance. It bolsters our self-esteem.

But the reverse works as well. We can often feel sad, depressed, jealous or angry when we compare ourselves “upward.”

The simple truth is — rightly or wrongly — we all learn not to judge our actions based on some internal measurement, but on the measurement of others.

A decade ago researchers took a closer look at this social comparison phenomenon and added to our knowledge of it.

They found that happy individuals seem to be less sensitive to unsolicited comparison information and less vulnerable to unfavorable comparisons than unhappy people. They also surmised that happy people tend to use such information sparingly and selectively. This approach seemed to protect a person’s well-being and self-esteem.

What was their observation?

While comparing to someone else’s success can be inspiring to us if looked at positively — focusing on one’s own outcomes, acknowledging the success of others without envy, and taking little satisfaction in the failures of others was perhaps a better prescription for happiness.

Source: Hedonic Consequences of Social Comparison: A Contrast of Happy and Unhappy People. Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1141-1157 (1997)

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