How Smartphones and Social Comparison are Making Us Unhappy?

How Smart Phones and Social Comparison are Making Us Unhappy

Social Comparison and the Rise of Mental Health Problems in Young Americans

Your smartphone could be making you miserable. Young Americans today are facing levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses that are higher than they were a generation ago. And the rest of us aren’t doing much better.

Depressed Teen: Social Comparison and the Rise of Mental Health Problems in Young Americans

According to the CDC, 1 in 10 Americans suffers from some form of depression.

(1) People between the ages of 18-24 report the highest incidences.

(2) 40 million of us over the age of 18 have an anxiety disorder, and as the APA pointed out in its recent report Stress in America millennials are the hardest hit.

(3) Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24 claiming 4600 lives per year.

Related: Essential Steps How To Combat of College Depression and Anxiety

This is a society that has more wealth than much of the rest of the world combined. What’s happening here?

Some claim better reporting—that we have better mental health resources in place and more people are aware of their psychological problems than they were a generation or two ago. Others point to common sources of stress such as money problems, economic instability, family relationships, personal responsibilities, lack of job security, and unemployment. While these may all be contributing factors, there’s another unrecognized piece of the puzzle that I believe is driving much of our discontent. And it’s right in your pocket.

Related: Social Comparison – Two-sided Sword That We Should Be Careful To

Comparing Monkeys

We, humans, love to compare ourselves to the people around us. Even when we are reasonably happy with what we have, once we compare ourselves to someone who has something better we become dissatisfied. You may have experienced a similar effect watching episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians. Interestingly, this social comparison tendency seems to be innate in primates and has been shown even in animal models.

Frans de Waal has an enlightening and entertaining Ted Talk where he shows an experiment he conducted on capuchin monkeys illustrating social comparison and resource acquisition in much the same way humans do:

The experiment goes like this…

There are two monkeys in adjacent cages. They are rewarded for handing a researcher outside the cage a stone. The first monkey successfully gives the scientist a stone and is rewarded with a piece of cucumber.

Monkey #1 is satisfied and enjoys his reward.

Then monkey #2 completes the same task, but is given a grape which he eats with relish. Monkeys like grapes a great deal more than cucumbers so when they are tested again, things get interesting.

During the second round of tests, monkey #1 once again successfully hands the researcher a stone and is given a cucumber. He puts the cucumber to his lips, looks at the researcher, then reaches outside the cage, throws the piece of cucumber at the scientist and shakes the cage.

On the second round, monkey #2 once again enjoys a grape. As you might imagine, by the third round monkey #1 appears positively outraged by the cucumber. Shaking his cage, making noise, throwing cucumbers at the researchers and so forth.

What was once fine—the cucumber—is now no longer even acceptable in light of the possibility of enjoying a grape.

Data on income disparities in people show similar results. The amount of money you make is not a good indicator of life satisfaction alone. Rather it’s the rank of your income within a comparison group that seems to matter most.

(4) We see this quite clearly in communities where income disparity is highest. A measure sometimes called The Robin Hood index plots household incomes in specific neighborhoods on a single graph. In places where the Robin Hood index is highest, we see greater instances of violence and homicide.

(5) It’s not just the amount of money people make, but income inequality that seems to drive these behaviors. This kind of social comparison probably started as an adaptive behavior in animals as much as 540 million years ago.

How do we know this?

Well, our ability to compare is connected to the ability to choose between richer and leaner reinforcement schedules. If you didn’t do that, it would be really bad from a survival standpoint.

Animals have to be able to look around and see which field is more likely to yield good food. As socialization developed, this ability to compare stretched into the realm of the community as well.

If you look around and see another group or person is doing better than you, you may sidle up to the other group and make friends. If you’ve got a hunk of meat and I don’t, I’m going to go over and stand next to you. Maybe you’ll share or I might even be able to steal it from you.

Fast forward 540 million years and we have developed technology and cognitive abilities based on relational learning that put this process on steroids. We don’t have to get angry over cucumbers – we can compare ourselves with little more than cognitive labels. Who is hot, who is cool, or anything in between. We can be upset over what is fair or unfair, based on complex ideas of “fairness.” That process was known even in Biblical times, as the story of the workers in the vineyard shows (Matt 20: 1-16).

But now science and technology – that mountain of achievement based on human cognition – has given us the capacity to compare ourselves to anything or anybody, anywhere or anytime. And that brings us back to your smartphone.

Related: How Technology Is Ruining Marriage And Relationships

A Tool for Social Comparison

Right now, you have a device in your pocket or purse that allows you to carry out social comparisons like the ones illustrated above constantly and with ease. It’s called your smartphone. With it, you can see what’s going on anywhere in the world at any time.

Think about what this creates. No matter how successful you are, you are not a gazillionaire. And you can see how gazillionaires live with the push of a button. You can see how the rich and famous life, what movie stars do in their daily lives, what they have that you don’t, how they live that you can’t.

The disparity is transparent, and it pushes ancient psychological triggers we developed for important evolutionary reasons.

So how do we manage this?

Social comparison and Unhappiness

We aren’t going to create a world that’s good enough for everybody. It’s not possible. Not everyone is going to become Bill Gates. Even if we could, it would never be enough. After all, most Americans are wealthy beyond imagination in comparison to the rest of the world community and we still have epidemic rates of anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental illnesses.

And we’re not going backward. No one is going to take out their iPhones and blow them up. What we have to do is create modern minds for the modern world.

The question is what does that mean and how do we do that?

The modern world is one in which we have to be Olympic class psychological flexibility experts, just to get along. We have to teach and find a way to be more emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally open and aware, we have to learn how to take the perspective of others, to feel a little of what they feel, and to stick with those feelings even when it gets rough.

Related: Harvard Study Finds #1 Way To Happy Life

We need to create a more accepting, mindful, values-based, caring, compassionate world, and we have to start right here, right now in our hearts, in our families, in our schools, in our community, in our culture, our nation, and our world. The tools are out there, right now. Heck, you can find them on your smartphone.

References:

(1)

(2)

(3) https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/generations.aspx

(4) Boyce C, Brown G, Moore, S. Money, and happiness: Rank of income, not income, affects life satisfaction. Psychological Science. April 2010. 21(4): 471-475.

(5) Daly, M, and Wilson M. Homicide. 1988. Aldine Transaction Inc.


Written by Steven C. Hayes
Originally appeared in Steven C. Hayes, Ph.d

Google Scholar high impact researcher: http://www.webometrics.info/en/node/58

Check out my TEDx talks: http://bit.ly/StevesFirstTED or  http://bit.ly/StevesSecondTED

For information on my trainings, go to www.praxiscet.com

If you are a professional or student, join the ACT or RFT list serves (set inside your ACBS membership page: see http://contextualscience.org/ACBS_listserv_faq

How Smart Phones and Social Comparison are Making Us Unhappy pin

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply



Up Next

8 Deep Depression Poems That Can Help You Stay Strong During Tough Times

Deep Depression Poems: Discovering Strength In The Shadows

Amid life’s stormy seas, when your despair threatens to overwhelm you, finding solace in the power of words can feel like a lifesaver. For centuries, poetry has been able to capture our raw emotions and illuminate our inner struggles. Today we are going to do a deep dive into some of the best and deep depression poems that will tug at your heartstrings and help guide you towards the light.

These depression poems has the ability to help you understand just how resilient you are, and all you need to do is get in touch with your resilient side. These poems tell stories of pain, hope, and the unwavering strength that emerges from even the darkest corners of our hearts.

Let’s explore some of the most impactful and deep depression poems that can help you get in touch with your vulnerable and strong side.



Up Next

Understanding The Sylvia Plath Effect: How Mental Turmoil Fuels Artistic Brilliance

The Sylvia Plath Effect: How Mental Turmoil Fuels Artistic Brilliance

Poets have long been seen as depressed souls. But why? Is there a deep connection between creativity and mental illnesses? Why do writers and poets who can create such  greatest works of art, literature, and poetry struggle with depression? Let’s delve into the world of writers grappling with the Sylvia Plath Effect.

Creativity is a blessing that each and every writer is always grateful for. But it can also be a curse for some. Why? Writers and poets think deeply. They feel everything from the core of their heart. 

They are sensitive souls who often repress their own emotions and pour it out on the page, expressing their deepest thoughts and feelings, and joys and sorrows through their work.

While this can help them to create literary masterpieces, it can also



Up Next

Depressed Overeating: 7 Tricks That Can Help You Stop Overeating When Depressed

Depressed Overeating: Ways You Can Stop Overeating

Struggling with the dark cloud of depression is tough enough on its own, but when it comes hand in hand with overeating, it can feel like an endless cycle of despair. I am talking about depressed overeating.

We’ve all been there, finding solace in that extra slice of red velvet cake or the bottom of a bag of deep fried cheese balls, only to be left with a mix of guilt, shame and physical discomfort.

However, the good news is that there are certain things you can do to break free from the clutches of depressed overeating. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and all you have to do is have faith in yourself.

Before we delve into the strategies that can help you put a stop to depressed overeating, let’s find out the link between depression and overeating.



Up Next

Feeling Blue? 9 Signs of Mild Depression You Shouldn’t Ignore For A Brighter Tomorrow

Feeling Blue? Signs of Mild Depression

Have you ever found yourself feeling down, lacking motivation, or losing interest in activities you once enjoyed? If so, you may be experiencing mild depression. It’s essential to recognize the signs of mild depression and understand its causes and treatment options. 

What is Mild Depression?

Mild depression, also known as dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder, is a form of depression that lies on the milder end of the depressive spectrum



Up Next

Masculinity And Mental Health: 12 Warning Signs of Depression In Men And What To Do

Signs of Depression in Men You Shouldn't Ignore

Do you often feel frustrated, irritable, and withdrawn? If you are a man and if you are frequently in a bad mood, then it’s likely that you have male depression. The shadows of masculinity can often hide the signs of depression in men.

Male mental health is a topic we rarely talk about as a society that is supposed to be fair and equal. Yet, societal expectations often silence the cries for help from men who suffer from depression. 

But let’s change that today! Depression affects millions of people worldwide, regardless of gender. However, men often face unique challenges when it comes to recognizing and addressing



Up Next

Battling Post Graduation Depression: 7 Powerful Strategies To Crush Post-Grad Blues After College

Coping with Post Graduation Depression: Powerful Tips

Did you experience a mix of excitement and uncertainty after completing your graduation? The transition from the structured world of academia to the uncharted territory of post-graduation life can be overwhelming. This can lead to a rollercoaster of emotions, including post-graduation depression.

Let us explore what is post grad depression, its symptoms, and most importantly, effective strategies on how to overcome post graduation depression. So, if you’re a recent graduate struggling to find your footing, keep reading – there is hope on the other side!

What is Post Grad Depression?

Post graduation depression, also known as post grad



Up Next

7 Signs Of Endogenous Depression And How To Treat It

Signs Of Endogenous Depression And How To Treat It

Endogenous depression is classified as a major depressive disorder, a mood disorder characterised by persistent and intense feelings of sadness that can last for extended periods of time.

Psychology differentiates two types of depression: endogenous (causes from within the person) and exogenous (causes relate to external events in a person’s life).

Understanding Endogenous Depression

It is thought of as a type of depression in which there are no external changes that