Keeping Up With Strangers: Social Media and The Comparison Trap

June 18, 2012  |  

Sometimes, I wonder if I would lead a much more satisfied life if I deactivated my social media accounts — Twitter and Facebook especially.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media. What I don’t love is the power it can wield over my mood when I least expect it.

I first noticed this phenomena during my Senior year of college. I was having a great day, rushing through classes and looking forward to meeting my best friend for lunch. I stopped by the school library to print off a term paper and mindlessly clicked through Facebook. There on my newsfeed was an old classmate posing in a picture with a guy I had recently stopped dating. I could tell from the background that they were at a popular mall in my hometown and I was absolutely devastated. The picture was nothing in and of itself – just two people standing side-by-side smiling. It wasn’t clear why they were taking a picture, when the picture was taken or who took it. Unfortunately for me, the facts surrounding the photo were largely left up to my wild speculations. Obviously, I could have assumed they were old friends who bumped into each other at the mall and decided to take a picture. Instead, I decided they were on a date, probably one of many, and that he was in love with her and not thinking about me anymore. My mood went from 100 to 0 in about 45 seconds and whatever conversations I’d planned to have with my best friend at lunch that day were totally eclipsed by my need to talk about the picture and figure out what it meant.

Another (decidedly less emotional) instance happened only a few months ago. I had just run four miles straight – my longest distance ever. Breathless and excited, I shared my feat with my Twitter followers. As soon as I pressed send, I scrolled through my Timeline and came across another Tweeps status announcing: “Just ran 10 miles. Easy Saturday” and my entire countenance fell.

Those instances are only two of the (way too many) times I’ve allowed what I read on social media to make me feel bad about my own life. Enamored by other’s success and blessings, I either minimize or completely forget about my own.

Twitter and Facebook are great tools to keep up with friends, hear about the news, complain about poor customer service and talk to the occasional celebrity who tweets or Facebooks back, but it can also be detrimental to self-esteem and personal satisfaction. At least, this is true in my case. Some days, I find myself scrolling through my Timeline or looking at my Facebook newsfeed and playing the comparison game: I just got married, but she passed the bar; or she got a promotion at work, but I lost ten pounds; or I got an iPhone but he got an iPad, the list goes on and on. Of course, there are no winners in the comparison game. The only result is to be repulsively bitter or impossibly vain…or both at the same time. Still, it is a constant struggle to keep from playing this lose-lose game.

The thing is, Facebook and Twitter are basically platforms for everyone you care about (and don’t care about) to broadcast their lives. And, besides those people who don’t seem to have a single good thing to say about themselves, most people only announce the positive. The amount of grandstanding on these sites is incredible. Everyone does it though, including me. I get annoyed by all the “I just got my Master’s/JD/Doctorate!!!” shrill graduation posts, but have no problem tweeting about having #TheBestHusbandEver. I don’t Tweet or Facebook to promote envy in anyone else, but it can be hard for me not to let other’s posts promote envy in me…even when (especially when) I don’t know the Facebook friends or Twitter followers in real life.

I think the key to not letting social media get the best of me is to use it in moderation. When I do use it, I need to practice self-awareness and resist viewing everyone as some sort of competitor in the “Who’s Happier, More Accomplished, and More Likely to Succeed in Life” contest. Just as I know that I tend to post positive things and glaze over the negative, others tend to do the same thing and just because someone is having a great day doesn’t mean I’m having a horrible life. Further, I’ve found that if I am focusing on the things in my life that I want to improve and taking the necessary steps to improve them, then I will be less inclined (and have less time) to look around on social media to see what everyone else is doing.

What do you think? Do you compare your life to those you follow on Twitter or friend on Facebook?

Alissa Henry is a freelance writer living in Columbus, OH. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaInPink

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