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Stop the Comparison Game: How to Win at Being Uniquely You

Picture this: you’re at a party, surrounded by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. As you navigate the social landscape, you can’t help but notice how you stack up against the people around you. Are you funnier than the guy cracking jokes in the corner? Is your outfit as stylish as the woman turning heads across the room? In moments like these, you’re engaging in a fundamental human behavior that psychologists have been studying for decades: social comparison.

Enter Leon Festinger, a social psychologist who, in 1954, introduced a groundbreaking theory that would forever change how we understand ourselves and our interactions with others. 

Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory suggests that we are driven by an innate need to evaluate ourselves, and in the absence of objective standards, we turn to the people around us as a measuring stick.

Imagine you’re a student who just received a score on a difficult exam. Without knowing how your classmates performed, it’s tough to gauge whether your score is something to celebrate or commiserate over. But as soon as you learn that your best friend aced the test, while another classmate barely passed, suddenly your own performance takes on new meaning. This is the essence of social comparison—we look to others to understand ourselves better.

Festinger’s theory wasn’t just a hunch; it was backed by a series of clever experiments that revealed the intricacies of how we compare ourselves to others. 

The study involved a group of students who were asked to perform a series of mundane tasks, which included placing wooden pegs into holes on a pegboard, removing them, and then putting them back in again. The participants were told that the purpose of the study was to examine the effects of practice on performance.

After completing the boring tasks for an hour, the participants were divided into two groups. One group was paid $1 to tell the next participant that the tasks were interesting and enjoyable, while the other group was paid $20 to do the same.

After the participants had finished their tasks and informed the next participant about their experience, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their own perceptions of the tasks. Surprisingly, the results showed that the participants who were paid $1 rated the tasks as more enjoyable and interesting than those who were paid $20.

Festinger and his colleagues explained these findings through the lens of cognitive dissonance theory, which suggests that people strive for consistency between their actions and beliefs. In this case, the participants who were paid $1 experienced cognitive dissonance because their actions (telling the next participant that the tasks were enjoyable) were inconsistent with their beliefs (that the tasks were actually boring). To resolve this dissonance, they unconsciously changed their own attitudes to align with their actions, convincing themselves that the tasks were indeed more enjoyable than they initially thought.

On the other hand, the participants who were paid $20 had a sufficient justification for their actions. They could rationalize telling the next participant that the tasks were enjoyable because they were being paid a substantial amount of money to do so. As a result, they experienced less cognitive dissonance and had less need to change their own attitudes.

comparison is a game that everyone plays but you can learn how to stop the comparison game and learn how to win at being uniquely you

This groundbreaking study provided important insights into how our attitudes and beliefs can be shaped by the comparisons we make between our own actions and those of others. It also laid the foundation for the development of the Social Comparison Theory, which suggests that we evaluate ourselves and our opinions in relation to the people around us.

But social comparison isn’t just about sizing ourselves up against others; it’s also about the direction of those comparisons. We engage in upward comparison when we compare ourselves to those we perceive as better off, and downward comparison when we look to those we believe are worse off. These comparisons can have a profound impact on our self-esteem, motivation, and emotions, shaping how we view ourselves and our place in the social world.

From the way we make our social media profiles to the dynamics of workplace competition and even the way we navigate romantic relationships, social comparison colors our experiences in ways we may not even realize. It’s a fascinating lens through which to view human behavior, and by understanding its power, we can gain a deeper insight into ourselves and the people around us.

Think about this statement: We are driven by an innate need to evaluate ourselves, and in the absence of objective standards, we turn to the people around us as a measuring stick.

We as human beings always are trying to see how we measure up. Are we doing better? Are we doing worse? Are we simply fitting into the pact? These questions we subconsciously evaluate on a daily basis so often that we don’t even realize it.

Life’s big questions don’t come with clear-cut answers. 

We often find ourselves wondering if we’re making the right moves—financially, romantically, career-wise, and in so many other areas of life. Since there’s no universal playbook telling us what success should look like at each stage, we start to look around at others for clues. But here’s the thing: using other people’s lives as a yardstick for our own can lead us into some pretty tricky emotional territory.

It’s not like there’s a scorecard that says, “By 30, you should earn this much, be married, have two kids, and own a house.” Life just doesn’t work that way. But in the absence of these clear standards, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. You see someone with a better job or a bigger house, and suddenly, your own achievements don’t seem to stack up. This can spiral into feeling inadequate or even jealous of what others have, making us forget to appreciate the good things we do have in our lives.

Then there’s the flip side. Sometimes, we look around and see others who might not have achieved as much as we have, according to societal benchmarks, and we trick ourselves into feeling superior. This kind of thinking doesn’t just hurt the people we’re looking down on; it also harms us by fostering an unhealthy mindset that values people’s worth based on material achievements or relationship status.

Comparing ourselves to others as a way to gauge our own worth or the success of our family is a flawed approach for several reasons:

The key to navigating life’s big questions isn’t found in comparison but in understanding and embracing our own values, goals, and definitions of success. It’s about crafting a life that feels right for us, not one that looks right to others. By focusing on our personal journey, celebrating our victories (no matter how small), and practicing gratitude for what we have, we can build a fulfilling life that’s based on our own standards, not someone else’s. This shift in perspective can liberate us from the comparison trap and lead us towards genuine contentment and self-acceptance.

Why Comparing Sucks the Fun Out of Life

Think about it: comparison is like that annoying friend who whispers in your ear that everyone else is having a better time than you. It’s exhausting and, honestly, a bit of a buzzkill. When we’re constantly looking over our shoulder to see how we stack up, we’re not fully living our own life. It’s like being at your favorite band’s concert, but instead of rocking out to the music, you’re fixated on how much more fun it looks like people are having in the front row. Suddenly, you’re not dancing; you’re just standing there, feeling bummed out about your spot in the crowd.

This relentless measuring up can turn every aspect of life into a competition that nobody signed up for. It’s not just about material stuff, like cars or houses, but also experiences, relationships, and achievements. Did your friend just go on an epic vacation? Instead of being happy for them (and enjoying your own perfectly fine weekend at home), you might feel like you’re losing some race to have the most Instagrammable life. It’s a game with moving goalposts, and playing it means missing out on the joy of the here and now. The truth is, there’s no final score in life. The moments we enjoy and the memories we cherish are what truly matter, not how they stack up against someone else’s.

When Family Feels Like a Competition

Now, let’s talk about family life. It’s supposed to be your safe haven from the world, right? But when we start comparing our family to others, it can feel more like stepping into a competitive arena. Maybe it’s those holiday letters that paint a picture of a family that’s just crushing it at life, or perhaps it’s scrolling through social media to see a family’s flawless outing to the pumpkin patch, while you remember the meltdown your kid had there.

But here’s the thing: every family has its quirks, challenges, and, yes, even a bit of chaos. What we often see from the outside is a curated snapshot, not the full story. That “perfect” family? They have their struggles too. The difference is in what they choose to share with the world. Comparing our family to others can make us feel like we’re not measuring up, but it overlooks the beauty in our unique family dynamics—the inside jokes, the shared challenges that brought everyone closer, and the love that’s not always picture-perfect but is real and enduring.

Falling into the trap of comparing our family life to others’ highlights can rob us of the appreciation for the wonderfully messy reality of our own. Instead of wishing for a different family experience, embracing the love, resilience, and even the chaos of our own can lead to a deeper sense of gratitude and fulfillment. It’s in the unfiltered moments that we often find the most joy and connection. Remember, the value of family isn’t in how it looks from the outside, but in how it feels on the inside—full of love, support, and togetherness, no matter what challenges come your way.

A Better Way to Look at Things

Instead of always looking sideways to see how we measure up, what if we looked back at ourselves? Comparing ourselves to who we were yesterday, last month, or last year is a game-changer. It’s about personal growth and celebrating our own victories, no matter how small they might seem.


Tips for Kicking the Comparison Habit

  1. Be Present: Pay attention to when and why you start comparing. Being aware is the first step to choosing not to let comparison get the best of you.
  2. Define Success for Yourself: Sit down and think about what success really means to you, not what Instagram or your neighbor says it should be. Setting personal goals gives you something real to work toward.
  3. Count Your Blessings: Focusing on what’s good in your life, rather than what you think is missing, can help you feel happier and more content. It’s about appreciating what you have, not lamenting what you don’t.
  4. Take a Break from Social Media: Social media is like a highlight reel—it shows the best bits but skips the bloopers. Spending less time scrolling can help you feel better about your own life.
  5. Talk About It: Sharing your feelings with friends or family can make you realize you’re not alone in feeling this way. It’s comforting to know that everyone has their own battles with comparison.

By making these ideas part of your daily life, you can shift your focus from comparing yourself to others to appreciating your own journey. It’s about creating a happier, more content you who celebrates your own path, bumps and all.




This blog post was written by Jon Thies, Director of Business Operations at Family ID.




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