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You Should Probably Compare Yourself To Others More, Not Less

Source | FastCompany : By David Mayer

Your colleague just won a big award. At a meeting your manager praises your coworker for making yet another huge sale. Your friend posts a photo on Facebook with her photogenic spouse, gorgeous kids, and happy dog in a moment of beachside bliss. Ugh, how annoying

You know what you should do: Send a congratulatory email. Smile and clap. Hit the “like” button. But you don’t. Because if you’re honest with yourself, sometimes others’ successes make you feel terrible.

The good news is that this is a normal (just ask Morrissey)—so much so that, according to psychologist Josh Gressel, there’s a word for “envy” in every language. The emotion even has an evolutionary basis.

The bad news is that social convention—from the Tenth Commandment through Teddy Roosevelt (“Comparison is the thief of joy”) —frowns on measuring ourselves against others’ gains. But according to a growing body of research, it may not be such a bad thing. In fact, you should probably be doing more of it. Here’s why.

How Others’ Wins Can Help You

To be sure, some research suggests that making social comparisons to others who seem better off (referred to as “upward social comparisons”) is associated with negative emotions. University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross and colleagues have linked Facebook to decreases in well-being for this reason, and positive psychologist Michelle Gielan likewise calls this “the downside of social media.”

But envy—of either the digital or analog varieties—isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be instructive. Recognizing feelings of envy helps us learn what’s important to us; it can be a useful source of growth and even provide clarity about our future goals

Research demonstrates that “benign envy” (to want what someone else has) can lead to increases in motivation, learning, and performance. Adam Grant, most recently the author of Originals has noted (riffing on Roosevelt) “that comparing ourselves to others may be the thief of joy, but it can be a powerful motivator.”

What’s more, the social expectation known as the “norm of reciprocity” suggests that celebrating others’ accomplishments makes it more likely that others will rejoice in your successes. This can be a virtuous circle with concrete upsides to your career. Mutually reveling in one another’s good news can help your reputation and improve your personal relationships, both important ingredients in moving ahead professionally.

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