No Good is too Small
Social Comparison – Let’s talk about it…
I was recently speaking with an animal rescuer who thought she wasn’t very “good” because she had only rescued and found homes for 12 dogs recently. That means 12 animals that might have died in a shelter have permanent loving homes now. This blew me away- what could be a greater accomplishment than this? However, I know the feeling- when I look at the accomplishments, scope, or resources of some innovative social entrepreneurs or nonprofit organizations I sometimes feel like I could never accomplish such feats. I would guess most of us experience this but there is a way to turn those feelings around and become inspired instead of discouraged.
Studies of social comparison are plentiful. This is the idea of comparing ourselves to others in order to evaluate some aspects of the self. A study by Suls, Martin, and Wheeler out of the University of Iowa discussed how these perceptions can influence multiple outcomes including: self-concept, level of aspiration, and feelings of well-being. There are two primary ways we can approach making social comparisons and that is downward versus upward; downward is when we compare ourselves to others that are “worse off” and we feel better in comparison and upward is when we look at others that are “better off” or accomplishing more than us. Both of these seem to be influenced by a variety of factors and can have multiple outcomes ranging from discouragement to inspiration depending on whether the person we are comparing ourselves to is actually similar to us. (2002)
The authors also note that if we compare with the interest of improving the self, upward comparisons can provide hope and inspiration. I say: Let’s go with that one! Self-improvement with the objective of doing more good in our lives can’t be a bad way to go.
Johnson and Staple demonstrate how social comparison can provide us with information that influences our goal setting and having “subordinate” and “superordinate” goals may contribute to the success of our goals. (2010) To me, that means: have small and large goals and then feel good about each small goal you set for yourself and aspire to achieve. (Notice I said “aspire to achieve” don’t be so hard on yourself if do not accomplish certain goals as sometimes the outcome is even better if it doesn’t work out and steers us to a new direction.)
We are bombarded with life challenges. Just stopping to pick up that bottle off the ground and recycle is HUGE and you should feel great about it. Those couple of hours you spent last month volunteering- also HUGE. Don’t worry about that person who seems to never need sleep and just solved the problem of ocean pollution while also developing software to assist education in low-income schools while they also just rescued five animals from a shelter while they…. you get the idea. Comparison is futile unless you find inspiration in it.
Another research paper entitled Social Comparison and Burnout: The Role of Relative Burnout and Received Social Support, showed that if we focus on the discouraging kind of social comparison we can experience burnout and feelings of isolation. (Halbesleben & Buckley, 2006) We need to communicate and share with others who are also trying to do good to keep us moving in a forward direction. So, let’s talk about it: what good are you doing? Share it with us here!
Bottom line: Take the time to compare yourself to yourself! Spend some time thinking about what you value and concentrate on your real happiness and celebrate every success you have. (Marie Claire, 2006) That positive reinforcement will hopefully spur you to even greater good and then you will provide even more inspiration to all those comparing themselves to you.
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