You’ve probably been there before: you’re scrolling through Instagram, only to see a friend’s gorgeous selfie. Suddenly, you compare your social media feed to theirs and feel totally inadequate.
This happens all the time. However, it doesn’t mean you need to take a month long social media hiatus. A new study offers some insights into how we can move away from comparisons that make us feel insecure and move towards the type that motivate us.
Is it Bad to Compare Yourself to Others on Social Media?
It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling through pictures of delicious meals, stunning vistas, and other expressions of happiness. We know that social media tends to show reality through rose-colored glasses, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling jealous.
However, there is such thing as a positive social media comparison, as is demonstrated in a new study. “Two Faces of Social Comparison on Facebook: The Interplay Between Social Comparison Orientation, Emotions, and Psychological Well-Being” focuses on the different ways we compare ourselves to those we’re friends with on Facebook, and how those types of comparison affect on our well-being.
Ability versus Opinion Based Comparisons
The study looks at how different types of comparisons can affect our experience. For example, it looks at the difference between comparisons that are “ability-based” versus “opinion-based.”
If you’re comparing the abilities of someone on your newsfeed to your own (e.g. their skill at performing the splits), it is considered an ability-based social comparison. In contrast, if you’re comparing your thoughts on something (e.g. your political beliefs), it is opinion-based.
How do these factors affect your well-being? Research revealed that those who make ability-based comparisons experience higher rates of traits like envy and depression. This makes a lot of sense. When we’re comparing our ballet abilities with friends who may have been training since childhood, it’s natural to feel jealous.
In contrast, those making opinion-based comparisons not only feel decreased levels of depression and envy, but also increased levels of inspiration and optimism. The reasoning for this is less obvious. It may have something to do with having our thoughts provoked by conversation, or feeling all the firmer in our conclusions after hearing arguments from the opposite side. Either way, this type of comparison can be positive.
It’s important to note, though, that comparing our opinions to someone else’s on social media and getting into actual arguments are two different things. Few people find them feeling optimistic after engaging in a heated battle in the comments’ section.
Want to discuss social media with a professional?
How You Can Improve Your Experience
Based on the findings below, we’ll want to avoid ability-based comparisons that make us sad or jealous, and seek opinion-based comparisons that motivate us and make us feel like success is achievable. How can we do this?
To Follow or to Unfollow?
To start, you may need to hit the “unfollow” button a few times. Is there a particular celebrity, lifestyle guru, or acquaintance, whose posts about their abilities always leave you feeling “less than?” Maybe they’re always posting pictures of themselves performing incredibly challenging yoga poses, or writing statuses about their wonderful significant other?
When their updates are bringing you more self-consciousness than amusement, it might be time to unfollow them. If they’re a friend who you’re worried might be offended, social media sites like Facebook make it possible to “unsubscribe” to friends’ statuses, so you’re still on their list of contacts but don’t get updates on their posts.
When to Get Support
If any of these feelings of jealousy are rooted in long-term insecurities, it can also be helpful to discuss them with your therapist. Issues like body image, confusion about the direction of your life, frustration with dating, and a lack of social connections are concerns that therapists are trained to support you with. Once you get to the root of your feelings of jealousy and/or depression, you will likely find it easier to scroll.
Meanwhile, use opinion-based posts as an opportunity to examine your own beliefs. What experiences did they develop from? What makes them truly important to you? This type of thinking can offer inspiring insight into your own history and perspective.
Have any tips or personal stories? We’d love to hear them on Facebook or Twitter. You can also contact us any time with questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reaganne Hansford is a Texas native studying Psychology at George Mason University. She has been published via National Geographic and Advanced Energy Economy. Her passions lie in asking the right questions, sharing the answers, and finding the best hiking trail in Northern Virginia.