The desire to keep up with the Joneses is nothing new. But the ability to see their beautiful home, behold their impressive vacations and witness their seemingly endless accomplishments has never been greater thanks to social media.
Because people tend to share their victories, not their struggles, it’s tempting to view social profiles as reality. One where you come up short. Gratitude, not surprisingly, is elusive when you feel inferior.
Social comparison is the impetus for many conversations with our executive coaching, career coaching and life coaching clients.
“Unfortunately, sometimes when you compare yourself — whether to another person, or to an ideal paradigm — you fall prey to disempowerment,” according to Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates. “You also rob yourself of the opportunity to appreciate what you have, what you’ve accomplished and, most importantly, who you are.”
How Can Gratitude Help?
The benefits of gratitude extend far beyond tempering the negative effects of social comparison.
Martin Seligman, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, has conducted numerous studies on factors that lead to happiness, including gratitude. It is listed as one of 24 essential character strengths and virtues integral to psychological well-being.
Recent neuroscientific research suggests that gratitude activates areas of the brain responsible for moral cognition, fairness and self-reference. It also increases feelings of empathy, according to the study.
Gratitude apparently has physical benefits as well. A study conducted at the University of California, San Diego revealed that gratitude aided the recovery of cardiac patients. Participants who kept a gratitude journal were found to have healthier hearts than patients in a control group.
5 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude as an Antidote to Social Comparison
Connect — “It’s a natural inclination to compare ourselves to others, when we first meet them — and when we reconnect, especially through social media,” Jody acknowledges. “However, personal authenticity allows us to forge true relationships based on trust, shared experiences and meaningful conversation,” she says. And human connection is much more emotionally rewarding than comparison.
A recent study conducted by Texas A&M University confirms that happier people are more concerned with companionship than social comparison.
Making an effort to connect with people will help increase your sense of gratitude. It’s easy to forget how much people really mean to us when we let technology govern our relationships. Face-to-face interactions remind us of the value of our relationships.
Shift your focus — “The spikes of discontent can swiftly divert our attention,” Jody says. “We tend to focus more on what’s wrong and minimize the positive aspects of our life.” That’s a reversible mindset.
Reflect on what’s great — especially if it’s something you take for granted. It’s easy to complain about all the things that drive you crazy at your job, but do you ever stop to think about all the great people you’ve met through work? Or how one of your bosses encouraged you to develop a professional skill that helped you reach this place in your career?
Reframe the negative — Bad things happen. And when they do, they can elicit feelings of disappointment, frustration and loss. During those times, you might be particularly vulnerable to social comparisons, when it looks like everyone else’s life is going according to plan.
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at University of California, Davis has spent many years studying the power of gratitude. “Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity,” he says. Rather, it helps you realize that you have the power to transform a loss into a potential gain.
“Grateful recasting,” recalling a positive aspect of a negative event, has been proven to help heal disturbing memories.
Express appreciation — A great way to cultivate gratitude is to put your feelings of thanks into words. Whether you compose a handwritten thank-you note, send a text or communicate your appreciation verbally, it elicits positive feelings — for both you and the recipient of your message. One of Seligman’s studies found that that writing a letter of gratitude improved participant’s happiness scores more than any other intervention — and with longer-lasting results.
While it’s not for everyone, some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude journal. “It’s not about what you write, or how well you write it,” Jody tells clients who are cynical about the process. “The benefit comes from making a conscious effort to bring gratitude to the forefront of your mind on a consistent basis.”
Recognize progress — You may not be where you want to be in life, but chances are, you’re in a better place than you were before. Acknowledge your efforts. Have you taken steps to improve your self-confidence or to create a better work/life balance? Life’s toughest journeys tend to produce the least tangible rewards. As Jody reminds clients, “When you develop an appreciation for opportunities to grow, gratitude becomes almost second-nature.”
Have you found other ways to cultivate gratitude in your life?