At some point we have all probably compared ourselves to someone else. It’s a habit that many of us have and don’t even realise. My problem with social media is precisely this culture of comparison that I see growing stronger every day.

Not only do people try to keep up with the Khumalos” by buying things they don’t need, they also try to keep up by bragging all over the place about their financial progress.

What do I mean by that? Scrolling through “Financial” Twitter you can’t but notice that what started as a means of motivating each other as a community has developed into the complete opposite. Pictures and posts of people touting their latest debt payoffs, monthly savings, and accomplishments now look more like a form of humble bragging.

So, what’s wrong with that Mdu?

On face value, this is a good thing. I do believe that most people are genuinely sharing just to share, but some people share just to say, “Hey, look at how well I’m doing.” And there’s a big trend of people creating brand new accounts for the sole purpose of sharing their financial journey and interacting with people.

There is nothing wrong with this in theory, but I’m seeing a worrying trend develop. I constantly meet people through social media, some of them clients,  who are genuinely excited and committed to their journey to financial independence but soon get fatigued or complacent. Not because they don’t have the means to carry on, but because they deem their progress meaningless compared to others. 

Why is it taking me years to pay off my debt when it’s taking others months? Why do I have one house when others have multiple? Why can I only save for one international trip a year when others go quarterly? It’s absolute madness.

Social media have convinced us that we’re supposed to be living a spectacular life without interruption. What was once deemed amazing is now seen as normal. Extraordinary should be our ordinary. When did this happen? 

Do you know their salary, their sources of income? Do you have a detailed list of their assets and liabilities? Perhaps you have some insight into their financial plan or possible inheritance? No!? Then why do you regard it as rational to compare yourself to others? 

How rich or poor you feel doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your actual income. You feel bad because you’re not looking at your personal progress but rather constantly comparing your circumstances to those you deem more successful than you.

Comparing yourself to others is a problem, because it makes it hard for anyone to feel rich. No matter how high your salary, it’s always possible to find someone else who’s making much more — particularly in SA, where income inequality is extraordinarily high. 

You feel ashamed of yourself, not because of who you are, not because you’re struggling, but because of comparison.  Shame is the most persistent attribute of contemporary social media poverty. How has this ideological fiction passed into everyday acceptance? 

I read somewhere that happiness is not wanting something. That really stuck with me. 

When we look at others, we look at what they have and what we don’t. We push aside everything we already have and focus on what’s lacking. Two things prevent us from attaining happiness; living in the past and observing others. Social media have become the best man-made tool for delivering both. 

I’m really starting to hate social media. 

* Luthuli is an independent financial adviser and founder of Luthuli Capital.

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