Scrolling through your social media feed, it’s impossible to escape it: your friend’s expensive vacation, your brother’s new house, your coworker’s dream wedding.
We’re spending more and more time on social media — more than five straight years of our lives, according to an estimate by Social Media Today. That’s long enough to fly to the moon and back 32 times. Houston, we may have a problem.
It’s not just that we’re spending so much time there. It’s also what we see.
Social media allows us to manage how people see our lives in a way we never could before. Sharing these moments or things in a public way signals our social status to others, explains Deborah Small, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Wharton School. Whether we realize we’re doing it or not, it’s a way of trying to gain power and goodwill. At its core, bragging on social media is just a new form of an old psychological term: social comparison. “It’s the idea that we all judge ourselves and others relatively,” she says. “So when I see others driving a better car or going on a more expensive vacation, that affects my sense of their value and my own value. They are at a higher status.”
If you’re not careful, looking at all your friends’ purchases can drive you to spend more. “This is exactly what’s been dubbed ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’” says Small. Here’s how to protect yourself (and your wallet) from the comparison game.
We get sucked into believing that we should be doing, buying, having the same stuff as everyone else.
Create a financial plan and a monthly budget. “Plans force you to at least think about and articulate what’s important to you and what you value, says Small. “The more you define what you want, the harder it is to act against that.”
RAISE THE STAKES
Give yourself incentives to make sure you follow through with the goals you’ve just set in your financial plan and stick to your budget. “The more you commit to your goals, the harder it is to break that commitment,” says Small. She likes the website stickK.com, which was created by behavioral economists from Yale University and allows you to tie real incentives to your behavior.
KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Remind yourself that what you’re seeing isn’t representative of anyone’s full life. You’re viewing a highlight reel individuals have chosen to share with you: their biggest and best moments. Consider the moments you yourself keep off social media, and remember others are doing the same thing. Typically, we only post things that allow us to win the comparison game.
TAKE A BREAK
Consider limiting time spent on social media, especially during down times. If you’re in a fragile mental state (because you’re in the middle of a bad divorce, lost a loved one or were recently fired), it’s best to give yourself some breathing room and avoid social media for awhile.
If you find yourself feeling tempted to join in the comparison game, remind yourself that social media isn’t the best measure of a happy life. It just may be that you’re due for some time in the real world.