How Comparison Could Be a Positive Thing

We’re told that comparing ourselves to others is bad. But what if there’s some good that can come out from it?

Comparison — the designated character of mischief in our school of life which teaches us to fear and condemn it. “It only leads to trouble!” they squabble. Okay, but I’ve had my fair share of experience with it to know that the problem doesn’t actually lie in comparison itself, but in how we use it. 

Before we can answer the age-old question if comparing ourselves to others is good, we need to recognise why we make these comparisons anyway. It’s only an innate mechanism of our psychological make-up, which assists us in understanding our surroundings, and us in relation to it. So, we got to cut it some slack. Of course, just like how an innocent baby can turn into a full-grown menace to society, so can comparison, without the right nurturing. 

That’s why in this article, we’re going to explore its good, bad, and how we can master it to our own advantage.

Why Comparing Yourself to Others Is Good

Having Mr. COMPARE-triot in our lives can benefit us when it’s used at its best:

It Gives Direction

Without it showing us the many possibilities and roads we can take in our life and as people, we’d be likened to a domesticated jungle animal that doesn’t leave the cage even when the door’s wide open — stagnant.

Looking up to my very first film-lecturer, he introduced me to the exciting world of visual storytelling that I wouldn’t have seen and come to venture into today if it weren’t for him. On the other end, downward comparison provided me with a picture of how I didn’t want to end up.

Together, these benchmarks enabled me to better plan out my steps in life.

A white arrow on the road showing direction upwards.

It Empowers

However agitated we may feel as a result of comparing, it may be just the push we need to go forward. As much as friends and a strong reward-system help, nothing motivates quite like healthy comparison.

Did you know that it also acts as a catalyst for critical observation of others? Try being in a room filled with seasoned experts in your field that you admire. You’ll find yourself automatically studying, not stalking, them, and quickly learning their mindset and behavioural characteristics, which may prove essential to your own success in the future.

It Brings Perspective

As self-centred as this may sound, downward comparison is almost essential to building our own self-esteem.

We need to feel proud of our position in life and how far we’ve come to upkeep our confidence, and that’s just a fact. Before you come at me for saying it’s okay to look down on others, hear me out. Downward comparison is meant to work hand-in-hand with upward comparison to keep us from having an inflated and nasty ego.

By all means, no one wants that. So, how else can it bring perspective? Well, take this for example.

Accept, understand, and empower written in blue on a piece of paper

There were moments where I felt as if life was simply too hard, but it was comparison with those that overcame similar mighty challenges in the past, that got me back on my feet. Our struggles can be minimised when matched against the powerful possibility of human persistence, determination, or even miracles.

How Comparisons Can Turn Toxic

Its benefits are certainly promising and plenty, but I’ve to admit, its bad reputation doesn’t stand without basis when:

It's a Superiority Game

Competitive and driven? I get it, It only keeps us climbing in life. Striving to be incredible at what we do is completely amicable and normal, but feeling the need to be better than everyone else at all times is truly damaging. What scares me the most about this mentality is just how much a person may give up to be part of this never-ending game — whether it be their relationships, health, or values, and then at the end of their life, feel like it wasn’t even worth it.

You Sacrifice YOURSELF

For every second you spend looking down on yourself and only wishing you were someone else, you waste precious time and energy that can be used to find, grow, and harvest your own unique potential and identity.

Think about your favourite celebrities or public figures for a moment. So much effort and resources are put into finding and crafting their own personal branding and giftings so that they can stand out in the crowd.

My question is, if we really want to be like them, shouldn’t we do the same?

Comparisons, not used right, could result you to sacrifice yourself and isolate from others.

Reality Is Held Against Perfection

I think we’re all aware that what people show us is only a fragment of their lives, right? Yet, I know how their ‘highlight reels’ can get so convincing that it becomes difficult to know the difference between that and actuality. These blurred lines can be so dangerous to our well-being, especially when that perfection becomes our standard for contentment.

Making Comparison Work For You

Now that we know its benefits and potholes, the question is, how can we make it work for us?

Be Self-Centred… and Not in the Negative Way

Sure, we learn what’s possible from healthy upward comparison with others but it’s important to put our unique spin on it. I find it liberating setting and living by my own goals, whether or not it’s outside of what the world pins as the road to success. This is because I get to determine what makes me fulfilled, and won’t need to depend on constant external validation to feel complete. 

Besides knowing what you want in life, take the time to note your strengths and weaknesses through and through. This keeps us from overestimating or underestimating ourselves in the act of comparison.

Celebrate People

Jealousy is real and potent, but did you know that celebrating another person’s success can fend off toxic envy the more you do it, and also make you a much happier person. On top of that, think about it, there are so many people in your life, but who do you commonly choose to care for? People that care for you, right? In general, we’re reciprocal creatures so it makes sense that studies show how people better remember and give back to those who genuinely appreciate them.

Bring Out the Boundaries

Having spent time with someone I knew, I went from being completely comfortable in my skin to wanting to tear my face off in a matter of weeks.

That’s how major it is to place boundaries on individuals that incite negative comparison, whether they mean to or not. What else? As much as the internet stands as a magnificently beneficial tool, it’s certainly designed to feed into feelings of FOMO.

If you know you have unhealthy comparison tendencies, put a limit on the time you spend on it and who you follow, while you work on yourself.

A lit, blue and red, neon sign with a heart and 0.

At the end of the day, it’s not about asking ourselves, “Is it good to compare?”, but rather how we use comparison that can seriously make OR break us. So, if you only take away one thing from this article, I hope it’s that you’re the master of comparison and it shouldn’t be the other way around.

Cheers my friend, to how valuable we are, where we are in life right now, and just how far we’ll go.

Andrea Ong is a double-degree student in Broadcasting and Business Entrepreneurship at Taylor’s University. Writing is one of her greatest delights and she believes in its unique power as the first step to bringing impactful ideas to life.