How Social Comparison Steals My Joy

March 15, 2021 Juliana Sabatello

Social comparison can leave those of us with mental illnesses feeling inadequate and deprive us of joy. Get the case against social comparison here, at HealthyPlace.

Social comparison is a part of being human. Using other people as a reference to decide how we see ourselves is often an unspoken force behind so much of what we do.1 "Comparison is the thief of joy," an adage often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt,2 has been on my mind quite often lately. I realized I compare myself to others at the expense of my happiness. I have two chronic anxiety disorders and sensory processing sensitivity which interfere with my life in every way, and I find that I often don't consider these traits when I criticize myself for not working as much, having as grand of ambitions, or achieving as much as my peers.

Social Comparison and Feelings of Inferiority

I struggle with feelings of inferiority because I can't do what it sometimes seems that everyone else can. I often feel like I should be doing more or trying harder, but when I do, I end up pushing past my limits and suffer for it. I am easily overwhelmed and need plenty of time to rest in order to function at my full potential. When I overwhelmed, I can't push through the way others can without dangerous consequences to my mental health. The times in life when I appeared to be doing the best were the times when I was struggling the most.

I need plenty of rest to manage my mental health, but the messages I receive seem to equate rest with laziness and hold up stress and exhaustion as status symbols. I may logically know that rest is self-care and lack of self-care is unhealthy, but these attitudes toward stress and rest are hard to unlearn, and I default to them constantly in my own self-talk. If I was at my worst when I looked like I was at my best, maybe I'm not the only one. Maybe this social comparison game is bad for us all and we should stop playing it.

Recognizing Ourselves as Different, Not Less

We are all individuals with our own strengths and limitations. My particular challenges have to do with anxiety and sensory processing, but I succeed in other ways. My sensitivity makes me empathic and able to connect with people easily in relationships, for example. If we keep trying to compare ourselves to other people who have entirely different experiences, we will never measure up. There will always be someone "better." We will miss out on appreciating our unique abilities and achievements when we worry too much about what everyone else is doing. 

How does social comparison affect your life?


  1. Cherry, K., "Social Comparison Theory in Psychology." VeryWell Mind, September 2020.
  2. Quote Investigator, "Comparison is the Thief of Joy." February 2021. 

APA Reference
Sabatello, J. (2021, March 15). How Social Comparison Steals My Joy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Juliana Sabatello

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Lizanne Corbit
March, 16 2021 at 5:09 pm

This, I absolutely love: "recognizing ourselves as different, not less". So many of us struggle with comparison and then seek to completely rid ourselves of it, but as you point out, it is in our very humanness to compare. What is important, and so beneficial, is not to try to give ourselves the very difficult task of removing comparison but to remover shift our lens around it. Instead of "I am less than" it is, "I am different than", and that is just as worthy of love and acceptance.

Juliana Sabatello
April, 14 2021 at 2:19 pm

I’m glad that part resonated with you because it is definitely a way of thinking that has empowered me to accept myself the way I am. Thank you for your comment!

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