Studies have shown that increased viewing of social media decreases our happiness levels.
In other words, we tend to feel unhappy when we compare our entire lives to the few extraordinary moments documented by our friends and peers.
Do you have that friend on social media who seems to have it all? This morning they updated their cover photo to a sunset they saw in Greece, and this afternoon they uploaded a photo of their significant other and them cuddling in bed. Later they will probably check in at a fancy bar in the city and tag all of their besties. You should probably block them from your newsfeed tomorrow, when they will inevitably update their status that they were promoted at work or are moving to a new apartment.
It’s totally human to compare our lives to the lives of those around us, but we need to remember that social media never shows the entire picture.
Imagine what it would be like if there was a rule that for every fun adventure you captured, you also had to share something mundane:
Snapshot: My brown bag lunch I bring to work everyday so that I can save money and eat healthy.
Snapshot: Coming home to an empty apartment and wondering what to do with myself.
Snapshot: Lying in bed and watching YouTube videos on a Friday night.
Snapshot: Returning to the Laundromat for the third time in an hour to see if my clothes are STILL damp. (I think the Low-Fi filter would probably highlight my last quarter being inserted into the machine quite well, don’t you think?)
Or, what if we were forced to share the bad things in our life?
Snapshot: My bank account.
Snapshot: Me arguing with my significant other.
Snapshot: The rejection email from that prominent publication I submitted an article to.
Instead, we compare our lives to all the people who are doing the things we want to be doing. We think we need to find a way to spend the years between 22 and 26 traveling, establishing some sort of a career, saving money, and dating (either a bunch of different people from which we will take away hilarious stories OR one person with whom we’ve found True Love). Then, at 26 we should probably get engaged, because five people on my newsfeed just got engaged and, shit, time is running out. Good thing we saved enough money to fund a wedding and purchase a house by 28! We’ve seen 56 different countries by now and worked our asses off to get this leadership role at work, so it seems like it’s finally time to Settle Down. Within the next five years, we start wondering if we should be having children because that weird girl from high school is already on baby #3 and I think I hear my biological clock ticking.
It’s too much pressure! No matter how many people said they were going to lead an unconventional life, all of a sudden you see your friends doing all of these conventional things and reaching all of these conventional (or exceptional) milestones and you start to panic wondering if you’re doing something wrong.
We need to ignore it. Ignore it all. No one is doing everything at once because that is impossible, especially when you’re still trying to figure out what you even want out of life. Don’t focus on the girl who’s been living in Australia for a year — you have no idea what her financial situation is and how she’s funding her stay. Don’t compare your group of friends to the one you always see smiling in photos all over each other. You have no idea what they’re like when the camera isn’t flashing. Don’t compare yourself to the couple who just got engaged and actually seems genuinely happy. You have no idea what their previous dating history is or what their relationship is really like.
You have no idea, really, about anything that isn’t what you see on social media. Aside from your closest friends, you don’t know who has also had their share of heartbreak and disappointment. You don’t know who is really having as much fun as they seem to be having, and who is just lying.
Understand that behind the amazing things people post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, there are sacrifices.
The girl who saw the sunset in Greece might not have been able to buy new clothes all year because she thought it more important to spend money on travel. The guy with the impressive job might never have time for a social life. The couple who got engaged and had the luxury wedding at 25 might have (probably!) had help from their parents.
And maybe, some people really are having the kickass life their Facebook page boasts. Maybe they really are happy with their significant other, maybe they did have the time of their lives in Asia, maybe they really do donate their time giving back to the community and feel genuinely fulfilled, maybe their job does have as many perks as it seems. Be happy for those people and understand that your life will never mirror theirs; theirs will never mirror yours.
And next time Fiona Facebook posts pics of her #awesomevacation with the #hubby and your blood starts to boil in a jealous rage, relax. Take a deep breath. And remember that everything looks perfect from far away.