In my book Weology I wrote a chapter called Hang Out With High School Teachers. It was inspired by my years of observing people’s savings and spending habits as well as a suggestion from Dave Chilton, the author of The Wealthy Barber.
In that chapter I discussed that as consumers we should be wary of the power of consumerism and how little things, like where we choose to live, who we socialize with and even who we work with can influence how we spend and how we perceive ourselves.
I've always been a frequent user of Twitter and LinkedIn, but recently as I have been more engaged with Instagram and Facebook, I have noticed something which prompted me to do some research. I explored my own behaviour and internal feelings as well as looked for some solid research on the theory that social media creates pressure and stress as we view other people's lives and compare them to our own.
We all know what it feels like to look across the street and see Sabrina pull up her driveway in her new Porsche and we wonder, why can't I afford that car? Have I made a mistake in my career? Am I below average? What should I be doing differently? All the while we have no idea if Sabrina is happy, how much debt she has or how much of that car she really owns?
Doesn't social media take this to a whole new level? Every time I look at Instagram or Facebook I see someone on a great vacation, I see couples that are so perfect for each other enjoying a perfect sunset, someone on an extraordinary trip to a destination I've always wanted to go to, but haven't. Someone is running ultra-marathons, hitting the gym 5 days a week etc. The list goes on…
This bombardment of perfection sure has made me think… I find myself several times a week questioning my choices and wondering how I should be better. Intuitively I know that Facebook and Instagram present curated content – the best and prettiest parts of our lives. I look at my own accounts and I am sharing the fun moments, the happy moments, the successes of my children, a beautiful dinner or sunset. Yet, looking at everybody else forces this regular comparison in my brain. I am an independent thinker, I have seldom felt like I needed to conform, I have many objective reasons to feel successful yet... I can't help myself to wonder, to compare, to question. It’s quite ironic!
As I researched this topic, I came across numerous studies, but was most taken by this wonderful article written by a millennial – not to say that this is a millennial specific problem – because clearly, I’m feeling it! Angela Marino writes:
“Comparison is the demise of the mind. It creates a dulling of the creative senses and makes it difficult to satisfy your dreams. The idea that another’s life is more fulfilling than yours is the most nonsensical thought. For you will never be them. And in turn, they will never be you. Your path is only made once.”
A profound statement. This comparison, it turns out has a name, OCD, not the OCD you’re familiar with, but Obsessive Comparison Disorder, amplified by using social media.
I worry about this very much. Particularly for my kids, because they are not as aware that social feeds are only a slice of reality and don't show the true picture of people's lives – the painful, tough, unhappy and even the mistakes people make.
If perception is reality, then we should work at changing our perception, starting with eliminating comparison as much as possible. That is the only thing we can do. We must become aware of the forces that we do not see. If we are aware of them it gives us a better chance of navigating them successfully.
People who are successful, happy and well-adjusted are wasting energy comparing themselves to others and allowing it to influence their happiness and potentially their life decisions.
So, let’s take Will Smith’s advice to heart. I know I will! "Don’t compare yourself to others. This is when you lose confidence in yourself."