6 Traits of People Who Don’t Compare Themselves to Others

Apply these and watch your happiness soar.

Ryan Hagen
Oct 17 · 7 min read
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Photo by Jeshoots from Pexels

ack in 2002, I went on my first backpacking trip to South America. One night, after enjoying an evening of drinks and dancing at Mr. Frog’s nightclub in Lima, Peru, I was walking back to my hostel when I was approached by a child no older than seven on a street corner.

She was as cute as a button with an infectious smile and bubbly little personality. She started chatting me up with her limited English and held out a bag of candy, offering me a piece in exchange for a couple of my Peruvian soles.

I don’t think I had ever truly understood privilege until that moment. Here I was, a foreigner out on the town spending money and partying in this little girl’s country, while her parents had sent her out to work the night shift to try to make a few dollars to help feed the family.

This was a child who should have been in bed resting for school the next morning, but instead she was hustling on a street corner at 2 a.m. by herself. I was gutted.

I gladly gave her some money and we chatted and laughed a bit more before I went on my way while she continued to grind the night away.

This little girl will not remember me, nor will she ever be aware of the profound effect she had in helping me understand gratitude. It’s been 18 years and to this day, when I need reminding of how much I have, I often think back to the little girl on the street corner.

In 1954 psychologist Leon Festinger introduced Social Comparison Theory and proposed that people have an inherent urge to appraise themselves, which is done in large part by comparison to others.

Psychologists believe that there are two types of social comparison: upward and downward.

“Social cognitive psychologists have long known that when we want to feel better about ourselves, we make comparisons to people worse off than we are (downward). When we want to improve, though, we compare ourselves to people who are better than we are (upward).” — Amy Summerville, PhD.

So, if one is trying to get fit, they might compare themselves upward to someone at their gym that has rippling muscles, endless energy, a shiny smile and charisma to boot. This is where they want to be and comparing themselves to the ‘goal person’ might motivate them to keep working hard.

I wish I could be like that person

The same person might be having a bad day and compare themselves downward to the unsavoury man at Walmart berating the staff about having to wear a mask, while reeking of hard liquor and wearing his shirt backwards.

At least I’m not like that person

Although it is human nature to try and validate yourself through the comparison of others, it is often not a healthy proposition and can lead to what psychologists call the ‘comparison trap.’

The theory suggests that comparing yourself to someone you deem to have a better life will only lead you to find more people with lives that seem better than yours for you to compare yourself to, leaving you constantly unfulfilled.

Whereas comparing yourself with someone you deem to be worse off than you can lead you to become stagnant or complacent.

Both options are flawed and will often lead one down a path of unhappiness and inhibit personal growth.

Luckily there are positive alternatives to help you live a life without envy or complacency. Here are six traits of people who don’t compare themselves to others.

1. They focus on what they have, not what they don’t have.

They know that they already have everything they need to be happy and put it into practice. They make a simple choice every morning when they get out of bed to be grateful for what they have and realize that thinking about what they don’t have will only make them miserable.

Instead of beating yourself up because your co-worker got the promotion and you didn’t, remind yourself that you have your health. Instead of getting down because your neighbour drives a nicer car than you, think about how lucky you are to have such great friends and family.

We all have a long list of things to be grateful for. Tap into that list and appreciate it and watch your longing for material and superficial things disappear.

2. They laugh in the face of social media.

There’s little doubt that social media has exacerbated the comparison conundrum we face. Spend ten minutes scrolling and you’ll find a bounty of perfect bodies, flawless teeth, luxury cars, fancy houses and shiny happy people. Take this all with a grain of salt.

What social media doesn’t show is the 99.99% of people’s largely imperfect lives. When you post an Instagram story is it going to be of you crying while arguing with your boyfriend? Or perhaps a nice candid selfie while in the middle of an anxiety attack? I highly doubt it.

Social media posts are highly curated snapshots usually depicting the pinnacle of someone’s day. It’s not real life.

I have a friend who is a world traveller with thousands of followers. Her social media is a beautiful panorama of a bronzed, bikini-clad, smiling, carefree woman in front of idyllic backdrops from across the globe. To see her Instagram account as an outsider you would think she lived a charmed life indeed.

I reunited with her recently in Asia and spent a couple of weeks travelling with her and her boyfriend and was privy to the process of all her ‘perfect photos’.

What I learned is that each photo took about 30 takes, required waiting in line behind tourists taking the exact same shot, involved constant bickering with her boyfriend/photographer, and was photoshopped and filtered to the moon afterwards. It was exhausting to watch. Things are not always as they seem.

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3. They enjoy their personal journey.

They focus on growth. The only person they compare themselves to is the person that they were yesterday. They focus on being just a little bit better each day and continue to grow.

They realize the importance of living in the present — and enjoying it. They know that you can’t control the past and you can’t control the future. The only thing you can control is right now.

“Presence is when you’re no longer waiting for the next moment, believing that the next moment will be more fulfilling than this one.” — Eckhart Tolle

4. They live their values.

They are self-aware and in touch with their emotions, thoughts, and actions. They treat themselves and others with care and compassion.

They have spent time creating their personal constitution and navigate their lives using it as a compass, and do not stray from it.

They know who they are and what they want out of life and do not get bogged down by what others think or do. They are confident and secure in who they are as a person and have no desire to chase something that isn’t part of their values.

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5. They get inspired by others, not jealous.

Instead of comparing themselves upwards and focusing on the ‘result’ of someone they admire, they get inspired and curious about the process that was used to achieve these results.

For instance, instead of wishing that they had the same job as someone they admire, they wonder what kind of habits this person has to achieve this position.

They wonder what they can learn from them and what kind of knowledge and expertise this person has that could also be helpful to themselves.

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6. They practice gratitude.

Instead of comparing themselves downward to someone to make themselves feel better (“at least I’m not that person”), they use these situations as a reminder to practice gratitude and take stock of how abundant their lives already are. They make lists of all the things they are grateful for rather than be disappointed over things they don’t have.

Final thoughts

Avoiding the comparison trap is hard. We are social creatures and it’s natural to look to our peers as benchmarks or goals. We’ve done it since we were children, “Mom, Timmy got Dunkaroos in his lunch box, why can’t I have Dunkaroos?”

And we’ll do it until we’re old and gray, “Thelma, did you know that my grandson is a doctor. What does your grandson do again?”

But this type of behaviour does not help fulfill us, it only leads to envy and dissatisfaction. It’s a lifelong commitment to live your values, practice gratitude and become the self-aware person that you deserve to be.

Stop comparing yourself to others and watch your happiness soar.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Ryan Hagen

Written by

I took a walk through this beautiful world. Journalism/Communications grad Freelancer/Traveler/Location-independent

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 128,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Ryan Hagen

Written by

I took a walk through this beautiful world. Journalism/Communications grad Freelancer/Traveler/Location-independent

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 128,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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