Upward Comparison

Written on August 4, 2008. Written by .

Bridge over the River
How we compare ourselves to others.
Photo courtesy of the Max Volta

Upward comparison is a term used to describe the situation in which people compare themselves to others who seem to be better off. The feelings of jealousy that may result can be a problem on their own, but the reaction to this jealousy is often where even bigger problems lie. People might borrow their way into debt to make themselves appear affluent or lose self-esteem trying to make up for the differences in a game that they cannot win.

There are various coping strategies for upward comparison. Some use a form of psychological distortion in which they ignore the existence of people with higher standing and surround themselves with people of lower standing. This strategy sacrifices the benefits that come from associating with successful individuals, and also creates the potential for problems upon greater exposure to them. A more common strategy uses psychological distortion to maintain the illusion of being on par with those of higher standing. In this case, the efforts required to sustain the appearances can be burdensome.

Ideally, there would be a strategy that does not require any form of psychological distortion. The only remaining options are 1. actually being the individual with the highest social standing, and 2. accepting the fact that others have higher social standing than you. The first option is difficult, but the second can be accomplished by anyone.

Accepting a realistic picture of your place in the world does not require sacrifices to your self-esteem. The only way that upward comparison can hurt your self-esteem is if you place too much of it in any one aspect of yourself. If your esteem is based solely on your wealth, your looks, or your intelligence, then there will always be someone wealthier, prettier, or smarter that will make you feel bad. If you instead take pride in your personal life story and its accomplishments, then there will be nothing that can stop you.

Each person has their own adventure to live;
if yours is harder, then that just makes your story more epic.

The thrill of victory is fleeting. The ultimate lifestyle does not consist of an easy, immediate and complete gratification of all desires. The real excitement is in the struggles and vicissitudes of life which bring continual challenges and conquests. When the world challenges you, it is just giving you a chance to make your story more interesting. The only way you can lose is by not playing.

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