Why do we always compare up?

One of my patients asked me a couple of years ago if it was a good idea or a bad idea to compare herself to others. It took me a minute to think about it, but I then said that although it is of benefit to compare oneself with those who are worse off than you, we don’t tend to do that. We always compare up. So for example, the woman who is 20 pounds overweight and miserable about it doesn’t look at a woman who is 30 pounds overweight and suddenly feel buff. No, she looks at the size 2 woman and basically mentally beats herself up. But the research shows that when we are with people less fortunate than us, we feel better. I am not an especially happy flyer. Takeoffs make me really anxious (yet I fly all the time to give talks). However, if I am sitting next to someone who is even more afraid than I am, I feel fine.

So the next time you are worried or anxious or feeling envious, stop and ask yourself where you fall on the spectrum of whatever you are upset about. And try to catch yourself each time you find yourself comparing up.