The holiday season tempts us to compare our lives to others. These social comparisons trigger cortisol that ruins your mood, even if you don’t really want the life you see in others. You hate that neurochemical stab of yuckiness, yet you compare yourself to others again … and again. Here’s why your brain does this, and three simple steps that will change it.
Social comparison is a primal impulse. An animal compares itself to others every time it reaches for food or a mating opportunity because it risks getting bitten if it reaches in front of a bigger critter. When an animal sees that it’s in the weaker position, cortisol is released and a threatened feeling motivates withdrawal. Brains that did this survived and made more copies of themselves, so that’s the brain we’ve inherited. Social comparison is more urgent than food or sex to our limbic brain because you can survive the loss of a meal or a mate better than you can survive an attack by a stronger individual.