People like to compare themselves to others. That’s no big surprise, but are we more likely to make “upward” or “downward” comparisons? That is, are we more likely to compare ourselves to people that are more successful or less successful than ourselves, that are happier or sadder than ourselves, better or worse off than ourselves?
Perhaps it is not an “either/or” question at all, but if not, then it is worth pondering why we use “upward” comparisons in some cases and “downward” comparisons in others. What, in other words, are the functions each sort of comparison?
After all these years, I still enjoy watching the first few audition shows of American Idol. I’m not so much interested in who will receive golden tickets as I am in who is willing to humiliate themselves in front of millions of viewers. Even more impressive, for some reason, are the auditioners who don’t recognize just how bad they actually are. They genuinely believe they have talent, and nothing the judges say can convince them otherwise. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my couch giggling at their expense. No harm done, really, as they can’t hear me. It’s not like I’m laughing right in front of their faces. The TV acts as a filter, and it allows me the opportunity to register a natural, non-politically-correct response in the privacy of my own home.
Upward comparisons refer to wish fulfillment. We see what others have, and we covet it. We desire it. We must have it. And if we can’t have it, it makes our own lives look bleak. In the realm of reality TV, I assume that some viewers must follow certain shows because they imagine characteristics in themselves that they see in their heroes. We support Carrie Underwood or Taylor Hicks because they represent the kind of person we would like to be.
And I know this for a fact: If I were on American Idol, I would certainly be Chris Daughtery, not William Hung.
Who do you compare yourself to, and why? What do such comparisons do for you? Motivate you? Depress you? Invigorate you? Infuriate you?
“No man is happy but by comparison.” – Thomas Shadwell