Last week Wellness Wednesday focused on comparison as a major cause of our believing that we are ‘less than’. True as this is, there’s also another side to the comparison coin. Comparison can result in our becoming ‘more than’.
Comparing ourselves to others can be helpful. The inspiration we feel about someone else’s achievements can improve the motivation to enhance our own lives. The recognition that our abilities are a notch above someone else’s can deliver a boost to our self-esteem.
The effects of comparison depend on how we process the information. Self-improvement occurs when comparison inspires us to try harder. Thomas Mussweiler, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School says, “if others are better in a valued dimension, it could be inspiration for you to work on that thing.”
Princeton University psychologist Susan Fiske refers to the Dutch term for benign envy, benijden, which means the motivation one reaps from another person’s impressive example. “Some evidence suggests that positive social contagion is possible with social comparison,” she says. “Other people’s good news can make us feel good, too.”
Similarly, psychiatrist Ravi Chandra, based on his own Buddhist practice, recommends using the social comparison impulse as a springboard for true self-growth. “Instead of generating envy, which is a form of hostility, explore what you admire and appreciate about other people and cultivate joy for their success. It can be a catalyst for personal growth.”
Decades of research suggest that upward comparison can promote motivation and effort. I’ve noticed that my granddaughter Isla compares herself to how well her cousin Emma performs at gymnastics. This has motivated Isla to continue to practice and has resulted in her amazing improvement.
In addition to comparing ourselves to someone else, Sonja Lyubormirsky, author of The How of Happiness, notes that people who are happy compare themselves internally. They stay focused on their own improvement. “A happy runner,” says Lyubormirsky, “compares himself to his last run, not to others who are faster.”
Reflection: How can you use comparison to become ‘more than’?
From Willow, Kevin, and Tom…for whom comparison to each other has made us ‘more than’.
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