Psychology Of Comparison

Not All Proverbs Are Wise: The Toxic Truth Behind "The Grass is Greener On The Other Side"- The Psychology of Comparison

Alright, picture this: you're lounging in your lawn chair, sipping iced tea and admiring your beautiful green grass. You sneak a peek over the fence at your neighbour's lawn and it looks extra green (how dare it)? Like they sprinkle magic happiness dust on it every morning. So unfair, isn’t it?


We've all been there, struggling with comparison. Comparison is an action and not a feeling but it can lead us to big feelings such as envy, jealousy and resentment.  Often, we do it on autopilot, without even realising we're comparing ourselves to others. This sneaky habit can hurt both ourselves and the people around us.  

Researchers say comparing ourselves to others is a human tendency. We compare not just our pasts and presents, but even our futures. It's like constantly measuring ourselves against some imaginary scorecard, which can affect our confidence and how we approach life. So, we're stuck with this comparison devil, but do we have to feel helpless? 

Absolutely not! 

Remember that greener grass? Turns out, that emerald glow isn't just an envious whisper in our heads, it's a trick of the light! When you stare down at your lawn, you're like a grumpy inspector, magnifying every imperfection – the patchy brown bits, the oh-so-wild weeds, and the rebellious dandelions. But your neighbour's lawn? You admire it from a flattering angle, one that conveniently hides the dead spots and blemishes. Your brain, ever the overachiever, fills in the blanks with lush, vibrant green, basically painting you a picture of the royal gardens. The point? 

This comparison game or the psychology of comparison is rigged, and we're playing with a blindfold on. But wait, there's more! We'll need to learn how to ditch the blindfold and grab some gardening gloves to cultivate our lawn of self-worth, imperfections and all. First, let's understand the game. Scott Sonenshein, an organisational psychologist explains two concepts in his book Stretch:

Stretching: being resourceful with what you have. 

Chasing: the cultural belief that more = happiness. 

This belief that "more equals happiness," breeds competition and the obsession to be extraordinary. It’s important to understand how these impact our lives to become aware of what is nurturing and what is not. Chasing often fuels the fire of comparison, as we obsess over "having" more than the perceived abundance of others. Here are examples of chasing - The Psychology of comparison often leads to Comparing your social media followers, likes, and engagement to others, feeling inadequate and pressured to constantly create more content. Always looking for the next promotion or job title, sacrificing work-life balance and neglecting current responsibilities in pursuit of more prestige. We need to be aware of this and ask ourselves how we make the most of what we have rather than chasing something that is never going to be enough. 

So, how do we break free from the comparison devil? 

Define your values and shift your focus to what matters to you: Instead of fixating on others' achievements, understanding what truly matters to you can help set your internal compass,  guide your decisions and celebrate your journey. 

Focus on personal progress: Track your growth and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

Cultivate gratitude: Practise actively appreciating what you have. Gratitude acts like a shield against the whispers of comparison. Remember, your garden, even with a few weeds, is still pretty blooming awesome.

Build a comparison-proof support system: Surround yourself with people who value you for who you are, not your achievements. A tribe of genuine friends who celebrate your individuality is far more precious than any social media following.

Reframe challenges: View struggles as opportunities to learn and grow, not evidence of inadequacy compared to others. Remember, everyone encounters hurdles; it's how we navigate them that defines us.

Embrace vulnerability: Sharing your challenges and imperfections can foster connection and remind you that everyone deals with the comparison. 

Remember, everyone wears masks: Social media often presents idealised versions of people's lives. Don't fall into the trap of comparing your behind-the-scenes reality to someone else's carefully curated highlight reel.

Comparison is a natural human tendency, but it doesn't have to hold you hostage. The grass isn't actually greener on the other side, it's just angled better. By practising these strategies, you can cultivate a stronger sense of self-worth and break free from the FOMO-fueled chase. Focus on your path, stretch with what you have, and watch your garden blossom beautifully, weeds and all.

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Zahra Diwan

Zahra has over 4 years of experience working with clients within the therapeutic framework. She works extensively with young adults, and maintains a diary on Things That Help Us which is collation of insights she gains in therapy.

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