I have a confession to make. I have returned to the world of social media or what I have been known to call the ‘anxiety-breeders’. After a few years hiatus, I have redownloaded Instagram and Facebook but for professional and educational reasons only of course…

I stopped using these apps when I realised I was experiencing far more negative than positive emotions whilst scrolling through their never-ending feeds. I found myself wasting time looking at photos of people presenting the best version of themselves perhaps as a way to boost their self-esteem which was only causing my own to deplete. I also stopped posting for fear that I could be having the same effect on another person.  

Social media can make its users feel validated and accepted by their friends or in some cases complete strangers. These people can have a tendency to base their self-worth on how many likes or comments they receive on posts, and as a result social media has fuelled an unhealthy attachment to our reputations. For this reason, some people seem to have become very comfortable with promoting a fake version of themselves and hiding behind its glow. Often people use their posts to impress others by exaggerating their qualities and ‘insta-worthy’ lives, and unfortunately despite knowing it’s not the whole story of that person sometimes we fall for it.

Outside the online world, social comparisons are also rife. We see examples between mothers, colleagues, family members and even fictional characters that display traits that we desire. Humans appear to be hard-wired to focus on our flaws and what we’re not, rather than what we’ve got, which is unkind to ourselves and makes it very hard to be happy.

It amazes me that we are all on Twitter and Facebook. By “we” I mean adults. We’re adults, right? But emotionally we’re a culture of seven-year-olds. Have you ever had that moment when you are updating your status and realise that every status update is just a variation on a single request: “Would someone please acknowledge me?”

Marc Maron

Sonya Lyuborminsky (from Happiness Pie fame) and Lee Ross (a professor of psychology at Stanford University) have found that happy people don’t care about social comparisons (Lyuborminsky, 2010). They use their own standards to judge themselves and are happier the less they pay attention to those around them.

So if you are ever feeling inferior, distressed or lacking self-esteem in particular situations perhaps it’s time to remove yourself from the circumstances that trigger your experience of negative emotions. You can do this be choosing the social activities you participate in and the people you follow on social media like I have (their replacements could positive influencers such as these Instagram therapists).

It takes a lot of effort but we need to learn to be content with who we are (warts and all) and to be kind to ourselves. Our focus should be on our insides rather than our outsides. This will lead to greater happiness and wellbeing and encourage us to be more accepting of others as they are too.

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Jordan Peterson