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Social Comparison and Responding to Others: Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

Part I

By: Bridgette W. Gottwad, LPC, NCC Illinois

You may have read or listened to my previous blog post about social comparison and how it affects you. When we think about both upward and downward social comparison, I discussed in the previous blog that “many psychologists consider social comparison something that happens to us” (Brown, p. 21). Therefore, comparing ourselves to others can be somewhat natural. However, regardless of whether we choose to make a comparison or not, we can choose how we let that comparison affect our mood or self-perceptions. Another important choice we make is how we react to others. This blog will share some of the ways we automatically respond to other people, often when we are comparing our lives to theirs: admiration, reverence, envy, jealousy, resentment, and freudenfreude (continued in part two of this two-part blog series).

Have you ever heard someone talk about the “grass always being greener on the other side?” This discusses the idea that other people spend a significant amount of time and money trying to make their grass the most pristine to outdo their neighbors. According to Scott Sonenshein, “due to the physics of how grass grows, when we peer over our fence at our neighbor’s grass, it actually does look greener, even if it is truly the same lushness as our own grass. The grass actually does look greener on the other side, but that means nothing comparatively because it’s all perspective.” So, it’s up to you – choose how you are going to let others affect you and avoid the need to automatically constantly rank your future, life, and relationships negatively.

Now back to how we respond to other people – according to Brené Brown, the more we know, the more we can choose connection over comparison.


Typically, when we admire someone else, it leaves us wanting to make self-improvements. However, it doesn’t make us want to be like that person, it just causes us to be inspired to think about better versions of ourselves.


Reverence is also known as adoration – a much deeper form of admiration. Typically, it’s combined with a sense of meaningful connection with something greater than ourselves.


Many times people confuse envy with jealousy but they are two completely different emotions and feelings. Brown states that “envy occurs when we want something that another person has.” Envy typically occurs between two individuals – one of which has something that the other wants or would enjoy. The focus of experiencing this emotion is that one lacks something.

Research has proven that “90 percent of recalled episodes of envy can be attributed to one of three categories.”

  1. Attraction (ex: physical attributes, romantic attraction, social popularity)
  2. Competence (ex: intelligence, knowledge)
  3. Wealth (ex: financial status or lifestyle)

Some envy is accompanied by hostility, but not always. Because hostility and a “desire for denigration” can be part of the emotional experience of feeling envious, it makes this particular emotion difficult to own.


Jealousy is defined as “fearing losing a relationship or a valued part of a relationship that we already have.”

Jealousy typically involves three people and it occurs when “one fears losing someone to another person.” It’s key to notice and understand that envy and jealousy “result from different situations, generate distinct appraisals, and produce distinctive emotional experiences.”

If you’d like to schedule a visit with a counselor to discuss how you’re feeling after reading this article, Symmetry Counseling is here to help you live better. We offer teletherapy, allowing you to speak with a therapist from the comfort of your home. Contact us to schedul a visit today.

To read more about the emotions that affect how we respond to other people, check out part two of this two-part blog series. We will pick up where we left off with the emotion of jealousy. To be continued!



Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the heart: Mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience. Random House Publishing.  

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