In the year 2019, it’s virtually impossible to avoid spending at least some time on social media. There are undoubtedly some who do; either because they’re luddites or extremely opposed to the online world for one reason or other. But the majority of us in this day and age enjoy much of what these social platforms bring to our lives.
At the same time, however, we’ve all probably experienced the misery that can come from innocently scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. Regardless of the platform, and despite the many positive uses of these “virtual worlds”, there’s a dark side that can (for some of us, anyway) cause significant levels of distress and dismay.
There are several reasons for this; but one of the major causes of social media induced misery is what we psychologists call “social comparison”.
Social comparison is a relatively normal phenomenon that in short, occurs when we compare ourselves to others, usually as a means to determine our own personal and self-worth. Much of this occurs unconsciously but whether we realise it or not, most of us are constantly evaluating our own attractiveness, intelligence, success and other attributes or qualities by comparing ourselves to how we perceive others in these domains.
Now for many people this process can be harmless enough; and even positive in some ways. Many people use this process of comparison to motivate them to improve and/or to inspire them to take constructive action in some area of their lives.
That being said, for many other people, the process can be distinctly dangerous and damaging; it’s been shown to be associated with negative emotions such as jealousy, envy, depression and dissatisfaction.
The difference, between whether social comparison proves useful or not, often comes down to how we’re making these comparisons and how we interpret any differences. Most notably, the most damaging social comparisons can lead to the most intense negative emotions when we compare all our worst bits with other people’s best bits; or when we compare our internal turmoil (all those worrying thoughts and insecurities) with other people’s apparent external competence (the brave face they put on for public display).
It’s like we’re comparing our bloopers’ reel (everything we’ve ever done wrong) with their highlights’ reel (every they’ve ever done right)!
And herein lies the problem. It’s an unfair comparison! Because we’ve all made mistakes and we all have insecurities, yet we all put on a brave face to the outside world usually doing our best to hide what we believe to be faults and failings within ourselves. When we compare the extremes, therefore, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. We’re bound to lose!
What then, is the answer? Can we still enjoy social media without feeling miserable?
Well, of course we can. And I’ll conclude with a few simple tips to help you on your way:
- Choose who you follow. It’s important to remember it’s up to you. If a person or page is not adding value to your life in any way and especially if they’re causing misery on a regular basis then quite simply, stop following them
- Compare like with like; remember that much of what you see on social media is heavily curated and edited. That is, it’s probably the best of the best. That’s fine, as long as you recognise this and realise that no one’s life is as perfect as it might seem, especially all the time
- Be and seek authenticity; don’t just post your best bits but share, also, aspects of your real life. This means acknowledging faults and failings, and it’s hard to be vulnerable, but I guarantee that more often than not it will be worth it
- Limit your time on social media if necessary; use social media to enhance your real life, not to replace it. Take breaks every now and then to ensure you have things in perspective
Don’t ever forget that how and when you use social media is your choice. Who you follow and what meaning you take from you