You likely hear it all the time: Comparison is the thief of joy. And, yes, social comparison can be quite destructive for mental health, particularly among younger individuals, but we are hardwired to compare ourselves to others. In fact, a 2003 study found that when researchers gave a group of monkeys slices of cucumber, the monkeys were content—until they saw researchers give a different group of monkeys grapes (a major upgrade). “The monkeys who still got a cucumber were no longer happy,” says Duffy, showing how social comparison can affect your mood—even without the existence of social media.
“You unfortunately are not going to be free of comparison just by getting off social media,” Duffy says. “We get text messages, we run into people at the grocery store, we see celebrities…it's all around us.” Unless you’re completely off the grid and isolated (which has its own health implications, we should add), chances are you’re going to run into comparison in some form or fashion.
But that’s not necessarily always a bad thing! “Most of the time we only engage in upwards comparison, which is against people who we perceive to be doing better than us,” says Duffy. However, you can engage in downwards comparison, too, which can help you cultivate a sense of gratitude. For example, let’s say you’re trying to become a better runner. If you compare yourself to someone who has never done a long run before, it can make you feel better. That’s not to say you should go up to that person and tell them they’re a bad runner—it’s just a way to tweak your social comparisons in your head so that they don’t mess with your mood.