Unwrapping Social Comparison: A Guide for the Festive Season

By: Rinet van Lill

The holiday season is upon us, and you might find yourself instinctively engaging in social comparison to guide you:

  • “Will my roast be as delicious as my sister’s was last year?”
  • “What if my pool party is as boring as the one hosted by the Smiths?”
  • “I’m afraid my Secret Santa gift will be the most unimaginative.”

But why do we engage in this behaviour, and is it always detrimental?

Why are we prone to social comparison?

It appears that social comparison has deep-seated roots in our history. Our ancestors relied on comparing themselves to others as a survival strategy. By observing the skills, knowledge, and resources of their fellow group members, they could adapt and learn, thereby increasing their chances of survival. In essence, social comparison was a tool for personal growth and community cohesion.

In the contemporary context, social comparison still serves various valuable purposes. It can motivate us to strive for self-improvement. When we witness a neighbour’s beautiful home, it can inspire us to enhance our own surroundings, fostering a sense of community and nurturing our creativity. Similarly, comparing our gift choices can prompt us to be more considerate and thoughtful when selecting presents for our loved ones.

When social comparison turns ugly…

However, social comparison can also have negative consequences, especially during the holiday season. The pressure to create a “perfect” holiday experience, often exacerbated by social media and consumerism, can lead to stress and disappointment. We may feel inadequate if our festivities or gifts fail to measure up to the seemingly flawless displays of others.

Strategies to navigate social comparison

Here are some strategies to take a step back and refocus on the true essence of the holiday season without letting social comparison overshadow its joys:

  • Set realistic expectations: Recognise that not everything needs to be perfect. Embrace the imperfections in your family and home as part of the holiday season’s charm.
  • Embrace the present moment: Instead of constantly chasing the perfect social media opportunity or being consumed by others’ posts and responses, focus on being fully present in the here and now, cherishing the people close to you.
  • Celebrate your unique traditions: Rather than copying others, embrace the traditions that are special to your family and make the holiday season uniquely yours.
  • Practice gratitude instead of social comparison: Reflect on the things you are thankful for, rather than dwelling on what you lack.

Social comparison is a deeply ingrained human behavior. While it can be helpful in motivating self-improvement, it can also lead to unhealthy pressure during the festive season. By striking a balance between our competitive instincts and mindfulness, we can enjoy the holiday season for what it truly represents – a time for loving, giving, and being together.


Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.

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