The filtered happiness that dies after 40 likes
Hot vacation spots, sculptural bodies, extravagant dinners, business cocktails, diplomas, promotions, weddings, babies, and the occasional quote about gratitude and the beauty of life. Everyone seems to have their life together and on a fast escalator –or at least everyone in the cybernetic world.
Those I know in the real world, on the other hand, often express frustration, fear, dissatisfaction and anxiety. I hear a lot of people complaining about their own lives compared with their friends on social media, to the point that they don’t want to look at their Instagram or Facebook news feed anymore. Ironically, if I didn’t know some of these people in real life –i.e. if I only got their life updates through social media- I would think they also have a cotton-candy-life and have it all figured out.
On one side, many people want to share their good moments with the rest of the world through social media; it may be attention seeking, or to show off – that is: after receiving enough likes it’s like the moment didn’t even happen – or it may be that they are genuinely happy and positive people who wish to share their blessings with the world. On the other side, not many people would dare make public their unhappy thoughts and feelings. Nobody wants to share I was fired today and I’m feeling insecure, I am sick and it really scares me, the person I love doesn’t love me back… I mean please, stop depressing everyone. We don’t like saying or reading those things because we don’t like feeling them. But these feelings are very real and manifest constantly around us, if not in our own lives. Honestly, sometimes my mind is blown by the happiness gap between the world I can touch and the virtual one.
However, I’m lucky to know some wonderful people in real life who are both accomplished and generally content. There’s one thing that stands out to me about these people: the fact that they don’t tend to overexpose their personal lives but are open to share their journey when the opportunity arises. They tend to be sympathetic, simple-hearted and creative people. They seem to have developed their personal interests and abilities in pursuit of the common good, and I see excellence in their endeavors. Not the kind of excellence that comes from comparison with others less achieved, but the kind of excellence that comes from failing and trying your very best every time; the real kind of excellence. This is a very valuable characteristic; it’s pure in essence. However, many people tend to twist excellence into rivalry, which instigates egotistic attitudes and often results in abuse of power on one hand, and in envy and resentment on the other; emotions and behaviors that originate when we assess our happiness and success in relation to others’. But this seems inevitable when all we see is everyone else being happy in different aspects, without any apparent struggle.
However, it is inevitable to compare ourselves with others once we realize that doing so brings nothing but confusion and egocentric feelings. It’s okay for people to share their happy moments with the world, and they shouldn’t stop sharing their happiness and achievements, but when we’re going through our social media parades we must remember that those displays don’t depict the entire reality. You shouldn’t want to stop looking at your friends’ photos and statuses, but you may want to start looking with a discerning eye; don’t be easily fooled. And if you feel jealous or envious, stop yourself; it’s not that their accomplishments come from taking away yours. Besides, what makes you think that if others have a fulfilling life you can’t have one, too? Who says there’s a limited amount of happiness in the world? And – this one is very important– who says that what makes them happy will make you happy, too?
This is, partly, where our feeling of inadequacy comes from: by comparing ourselves to others. It’s not social media’s fault, and it’s definitely not our friends’ fault: it’s our own fault. One side of this comparison may be based on material wealth, which we often relate with capacity and success; another aspect in which we may feel inadequate is when we’re not following society’s expectations in terms of looks and status –i.e. what we should be doing after a certain age. In later posts I might expand on the repercussions of comparing ourselves with others in each of these specific aspects, but for now I’m interested in talking about individual excellence vs. excellence based on comparisons, particularly via social media.
Besides our own friends’ posts we are also exposed to a vast amount of information from the pages and people we follow. The opportunity of sharing and learning from each other all around the world is a privilege of our time. However, it’s shocking how many sadly famous characters on Instagram promote distorted perspectives of happiness based on exaggerated worship to money and to the body – to material things in general. Characters like that one guy whose average photo is him surrounded by several half naked women, jewelry, cash and luxury cars, who has millions of followers who often express their admiration towards him and how much they wished they were like him; or fitness models (male and female) who are not there to share fitness tips, and even when they do, many of their millions of followers are from the opposite sex – I wonder how many fitness tips would apply to them. What is being promoted there but a fleeting sense of validation?
This adds to the false sense of happiness that our societies have already been promoting for decades through media in general. Easy global access to social media is just enhancing that. Our societies have been promoting a transitory happiness that depends on specific milestones throughout our adult lives: once you graduate high school you must get into the best university, graduate, live alone, become well connected, get yourself a prestigious job where you can climb up the ladder quickly; and meanwhile have a lot of fun, be free, sleep with whoever you fancy, forget what people think – but always look awesome –, travel and go crazy, then calm down, marry someone good enough – that looks like you – and settle somewhere where you can continue climbing that career ladder, try saving money – if you’re lucky enough not to possess any debt –, make a few children, keep on with the ladder –especially if you’re a man, if you are a woman you may wanna calm down from here on, just continue trying to look your best–, take care of that family until your children leave and you can retire, perhaps travel a little more, babysit the grandchildren and die.
I don’t see what’s wrong with that picture, if that’s what one wants. But is that what we all want? What we all must want? If you don’t want it, is there something wrong with you? No. Simply conforming to society’s imposed ideals is a waste of our potential and leads to frustration, without us even understanding why. By following society’s expectations in these terms of success we’re ignoring our own capacities and potentials, and by doing that, not only are we missing out on developing skills and talents, but we’re also depriving the rest of the world from the benefits of a diverse set of experiences and perspectives that could contribute to the advancement of our civilization.
We all have a unique combination of capacities, interests and experiences; comparing ourselves with others is completely illogical by definition. We are all exceptional in this sense, however, by comparing ourselves with others we give up on our own excellence; we give up our individual potentialities, our principles and dreams, and along with them any possibility of lasting happiness.
We want our basic needs covered, we want to be safe, we want our loved ones close, we want to be happy in terms of these elements, but after fulfilling them, happiness looks different for different people. Happiness is a state of mind, of spirit; we can’t expect the same lifestyle to satisfy all minds and souls in humanity. We are creating a uniformity that is killing many dreams and capacities and what’s worse, this uniformity is based on a low facet of our world: materialism.
We will never be satisfied if we are constantly wishing we were doing what others are doing, whether it’s people we see on social media or in real life. This doesn’t mean that other people can’t inspire us; being inspired by the experiences and achievements of others is a very healthy thing to do, not by putting someone up on a pedestal but by allowing certain characteristics of that someone to motivate us to emulate. This implies certain level of maturity, of knowing yourself and what you want, what will cater to your capacities, interests, principles and dreams; knowing what could bring you happiness.
So, dear readers, don’t tell me you all want the same things. Get out of that mental numbness and think who you are and who you want to be, without fear and justifications, and then try comparing yourself with others –you can’t. See how many people you can compare yourself with –none. See how unique you are and how excellent you can be, and how much the world needs you to know that. Don’t deprive us from your exceptionality and don’t deprive yourself from experiencing the kind of happiness that does not require any filters and is beyond any amount of likes.