Since the beginning of time, human beings have tended to compare themselves to one another. I bet you were doing that just now. Thinking how your cousin’s friend’s neighbor has managed to change hairstyles in two weeks and you still have the same braids from two months ago. Don’t worry this way of thinking also plagued your ancestors when they wondered how others were better at hunting or how the hell some dude discovered fire.
Psychologist Leon Festinger described this as the Social Comparison theory. The theory states that people derive their worth, socially and personally, from how they rank against others. Pretty much like high school when you sit for exams and are ranked against other students. The difference here is that your mind and socialization create the marking scheme. You could be socialized into believing that designer brands are the shit. The more one has the better. The more Gucci, Versace, and Prada one has in one outfit the better. So you go about ranking people as well as yourself with that marking scheme.
Comparison can be of great benefit as it can propel your personal development. I mean if Janet can afford to buy a nice car why can’t I also do the same and get a cool whip for myself. If you see Karanja flexing his fit body that can serve as a motivator to keep you on your fitness journey, it can help you pull through your workouts. In the end, your self-image could improve. Look at you with more money you worked hard for riding around in a car you dreamed of. There you are staring at your gorgeous body in the two-way glass windows in town, granted those on the inside of the building are admiring your body too. Tell me you don’t feel a surge in confidence. Tell me your self-image has not changed for the better, has it? Within your circle of friends, you could engage each other in some healthy competition and strive toward some positive goals health-wise, financially, etc.
On the flip-side, as Theodore Roosevelt put it simply and powerfully, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparison if unchecked can destroy. It begins as a little thought, often well-meaning, that morphs into ugly things like envy or feelings of depression. This occurs when we compare ourselves to ideals that are a bit unrealistic. For example, you comparing yourself to Kim Kardashian in terms of how popular she is or her lifestyle. Without taking into account how she got there. If you know, you know.
The Advent of Social Media
As if comparing yourself to one person was not enough, enter Social Media. A phenomenon that shrunk our world into a global village. We can communicate and even transact businesses at the touch of a button. What caught everyone off-guard was its propensity to spark comparison. Who would have thought we would find ourselves comparing our lives to others’ highlight reels. Indeed people are only putting their best foot forward on social media. Not the foot with corns, calluses, and athlete’s foot.
The social media algorithms flood your feed with pictures, tweets, and tiktoks of other people who are doing seemingly better than you. These just fan the flame of negative comparison and set the course for poor mental health. For others, it may ignite the urge to match up to the lifestyles they see on their timelines. That is how the crop of people like Hushpuppi sprouted. The guy went to extremes of international fraud and money laundering to afford an “instagramable” lifestyle of designer wear, private jets, and all things luxury!
I imagine young Hushpuppi comparing himself to other wildly rich people, which is okay, but instead of trying to get there legally or through honest hard, and smart work he chooses a route that has landed him on the wrong side of the law. Granted he lived his dream but was it worth it in the end?
Rich vs. Wealthy
The trap of such high-end lifestyles on social media has many of us wanting to be rich as opposed to wealthy. In as much as these words are used interchangeably, they do have distinct differences. To be rich simply put is being able to spend a lot of money at a time whereas to be wealthy is being able to amass assets that essentially preserve your money for a long to come. This mistake in the meaning of the two terms has us thinking that things like expensive homes and designer fashion are markers of wealth. They are not. Taking the example of designer fashion, unless you are buying it for resale (which would classify it as an asset) you are wearing an expensive liability because the item of clothing does not generate any income for you. Assets are things that generate income like houses for rent or sale, not the ones you live in. That one is a liability because you pay for its maintenance and other costs while it gets you no income. (Read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki for more).
So granted you have the fancy house and car but not having a way to sustain them and the new lifestyle you have acquired (through comparison) is a waste.
I would encourage all of us to pick up healthy comparisons and to be self-aware enough to check ourselves when the comparison starts to steal our joy. Want better and do better for yourself but not at the cost of your integrity, your freedom, or your sanity. You never know what happens beyond someone’s curated Instagram feed so put down your phone and get a group of like-minded friends and build each other up. Take time to educate yourself on personal finance with Centonomy before you spend it on the wrong things with the right intent. Take time to know what assets and liabilities are and any blurred lines in between. Go out there and create wealth that will last your generation so that your grandkids don’t rant on the tl like the rest of us.