Downward Comparisons

Whether you’re in the Mid-Atlantic East Coast or somewhere else, you likely know that things have been very stressful in DC over the last couple of months. We had two harrowing shootings. The government furlough has created an insidious sense of doubt about our nation’s health and can be felt tangibly here in the capital with many services reduced or unavailable and many people out of work temporarily or permanently.

Gioia had a chance to “interview” a couple of furloughed “soccer dads” on the sidelines of a middle school soccer game. She asked if the sequestration had given them a chance to catch upon on any unfinished projects. One of the dads was unshaven and didn’t talk much, but the other dad said, “No, not really, but we’re actually doing OK for now. It’s stressful and a bit tight, but what is hardest is that we feel really bad for the people that are worse off than we are-who are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t ride this out without being financially hit.”

The furlough has had some concrete and painful impact on people in our immediate community here in the capitol but also nationally.  However, even though Gioia’s soccer friend is out of work (and the kids lost the game that day), he spontaneously demonstrated a form of “downward comparison” a phenomena that often helps people feel better when they are going through hardship.

Downward comparison–whereby we evaluate ourselves in contrast to people in more unfortunate circumstances than our own–can induce gratitude and compassion. “I thought my situation was bad but what they are going is so much worse…” It helps us step out of ourselves and feel empathy for the plight of others. (The opposite of “upward comparison” whereby we unfavorably contrast ourselves to others who appear to be more fortunate than we are).

Although our soccer friend did this instinctively and unprompted, we can deliberately engage in downward comparison as a strategy for managing difficulty. It helps us identify our blessings and appreciate what is working and functional in our lives even in the face of loss and difficulty.

Our thoughts go out to everyone who is being affected by the shutdown whether it’s here in DC or across the nation.

If you are interested in learning more about upward and downward comparisonclick here.

If you are experiencing significant stress and feel that you would benefit from extra support, feel free to contact us as well for more focused help.

Art directive:
Downward Comparison Card for Someone You Know.
Make a card for someone whose situation has given you pause to realize the blessings that you have. The card been be a simple image of hope and inspiration. Send it to him/her this week!