The Danger of Comparing: How to Live Happily Being You


“I remember when I first started coming … because  I was a psycho,” blurted Stephanie, affectionately laughing at her compulsive comparing that had utterly consumed her life. Her breaking (open) point came 3 years ago when one glimpse of a female on Snapchat triggered a full-blown panic attack. Her feelings of not good enough poured over the edge and into my email box eager for a first appointment.

Stephanie is certainly not alone.  So much so that Psychology Today gave Escaping The Comparison Trap prime real estate as their cover story for this upcoming month of December. So many amazing people like Stephanie, dynamos who others would say “have it all,” struggle with an internal sense of inadequacy — doubting who they are, how they look, what they’ve accomplished and what they have going for them in their lives.  A low baseline of self-worth, coupled with the human ego’s tendency to compare, can cause these darker internal views to spread like an infection -- impeding our joy and even creating serious depression.

Social comparison is primal in our nature. After all, we are tribal and communal and on some level need social cues and belonging to survive. One significant difference today is social media. Our exposure to family, friends and people from our past, makes what others are doing (what they want us to see) more visible which can then linger in our minds. This lingering of awareness of others can make it more difficult to fight off the “shoulds” and harder to compare oneself to ... oneself.

Developmentally, we tend to grow out of the stage of life when social comparison peaks — aka adolescence— but now one look at Facebook or Instagram, and we can revert right back to feeling lack like we did at age 13.  As Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist at University of North Carolina, puts it in his interview with Psychology Today, “Social media has created a life-long adolescence.” The best news of all is that we have a choice in the matter and possess within us everything we need to“feel good in our own skin and be happy with who we are.”  

Here are 6 tips to help YOU BE YOU— with greater peace and joy.

Self-awareness is the first step for any proactive change.  What we can’t see, we can’t change!  I recommend slowing down throughout your day and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, listen to your body. Notice when something is bothering you, when you feel off in some way. Underneath, you might have caught the not good enough flu going around, and in some way comparing could be the culprit.  Look for thoughts like: “If only I…” or “I wish I had …”  “I’m not as …” or “I should be …”  These can be clear signs of comparing.

The more we nurture and live by our internal values, bravely living honestly and true to ourselves, the fuller and stronger we feel inside.  Ask yourself, 'Why?' more often to discover your inner motivation for anything you might do or say. This simple 'why am I doing this or saying that' question can help pull the curtain down on our own ego luring us into caring way too much about being liked or making others comfortable — at the expense of our own integrity and happiness. Betraying ourselves is one of the most painful life experiences. If we could only grasp the unlimited capacity we have to create our own fulfillment! When we follow our inner compass, which might make us less popular or leave others not so comfortable with our decisions, then we fill ourselves with the warm light of our soul — and this shines brightly out into the world.

Whenever I catch myself comparing and feeling like I’m not doing enough, not good enough, don’t have enough — I know I have fallen into a place of lack and away from appreciation. Then, I’m in danger.  Losing appreciation for the gifts and opportunities we are given, within and around us, is something we all should fear. The minute we notice comparing going on within, that is a great cue to switch over into taking stock of what we appreciate, what we’re proud of, what we feel so humbly blessed to receive in our life.   

Having a role model is where comparing can have a positive side. When we see that someone else has achieved what we dream to overcome what we hope for, reached a level of personal and spiritual development that inspires us in any way — this is a gift to treasure.  We go farther when we see that others have carved a path, this helps us believe we can do the same. But we need to approach a mentor or role model relationship with caution lest we can fall into a negative trap of not feeling far enough along or get caught up in feeling we have to follow exactly in their path.  We must always prioritize comparing ourself to ourself and set lofty yet compassionate goals that match what we deem as our next level in our growth process.

The more we make connecting with others our focus, especially with an open heart, this helps ease the tendency to compare. And this includes being merciful with yourself. We are all connected on some real and true level and operating from compassion and care feeds this universal truth.  I suggest spending time learning more about the people in your life, what goes on in their homes and heart, in their dreams and soul. Certainly, more than what’s behind the social media or cocktail party scene.The more we see that we are the same, all with strengths and frailties — and that no one is superior to anyone or above the natural process of life — this helps ease our own inner taskmaster trying to measure up.

As my favorite Michael Berg quote inspires, “Every person has a unique Light that they MUST reveal that no one else can.”  This concept draws from the spiritual Law of Uniqueness*, which explains the cosmic impossibility that we are not special and unique. Our challenge comes from the ego’s pull to seek uniqueness for the sake of taking versus true sharing.  When we live with purpose, and with the knowing that we are unique already and here to give, this helps us switch to a higher cassette where comparing is honestly not relevant.  We want to be asking ourselves all the time, where can I add value the most, how can I share my gifts to fulfill my highest potential in this world?  This is what will protect our happiness the most.   

*See On World Peace by Rav Ashlag for more on the Law of Uniqueness