A new school year is upon us and if you know someone with school-age children, the abundance of first-day-of-school pictures have begun on social media, Facebook in particular. This reminds me of how commonly I hear people comparing themselves and their lives to what they see posted and some of the negative feelings often accompanying these comparisons: insecurity, discouragement, inadequacy, depression, anxiety.
I will date myself here but I assume that many people remember "back in the day" when recording personal accomplishments and family memories required pulling out a camera (if you remembered to bring it along), taking a few select shots (hey, neither film nor developing costs were cheap!), making arrangements to develop the film, and placing the best ones in a photo album (then defined as a bulky, heavy book that we placed photos in, protected with a thin plastic sheet). Most people didn't typically carry those books around to show all of their friends, family, and co-workers.
Today? Use the phone attached to your hand and voila- dozens of photos to get the perfect shot. Tap the screen a few times and all of your "friends" can share in your family photos, vacations, good news, achievements, and celebrations, on social media.
I don't think anyone looking at an old family photo album assumes that those books fully represent the people within them, so it's important to remember that while social media conveniently allows us to share a lot more of each other's lives, it's often the scrapbook version. To discourage any interpretation of my life as perfect in any way, it is not uncommon for me to end some of my happy posts with #facebookismyscrapbook for this very reason.
"One reason we struggle with insecurity: we're comparing
our behind-the-scenes to everyone else's highlight reel."
- Steve Furtick
Social comparison is not a new concept and it's not limited to social media; it's actually a pretty common human phenomenon whether one admits it or not. While most people are familiar with the dangers of trying to "keep up with the Joneses," it is important to remember that, while we have these glimpses into others' lives, the "statuses" are only self-selected pieces, definitely not the full story. And behind seemingly picture perfect posts or celebrations, there are more stories, be they marital problems, addictions, fertility struggles, mental health issues, losses, health concerns, financial struggles, etc.
More people turn to social media to share their "good" than to expose their vulnerabilities, struggles and heartbreak and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Often when there is bad, disappointing or sad news to share, people want to share it more personally, more privately, in a more emotionally connected way than most social media interactions allow.
So while it's healthy to check in with ourselves about how we can improve ourselves, comparing ourselves to others tends to feed on our insecurities, vulnerabilities and self-esteem. Looking to others' lives to measure our own only serves to rob us of the ability to enjoy and appreciate our own good.
"Comparison is the thief of joy" ~ Theodore Roosevelt