It was a few months after my graduation and I had just quit my job. I had a horrible boss and a toxic work environment at best. There were a few people there that made it bearable, but I digress. I graduated with honors from a university in Boston, volunteered, got involved in the departmental matters and everything, but there I was sitting in my apartment without a job for three months. In between looking for jobs and updating my resume and crap, I would find myself moseying over to Facebook from time to time. I wish I hadn’t, but I was addicted. It some ways it was a way to stay in tune with what’s going on in the world. However, that came with a price. Constant images of success, happiness, new jobs, internships, vacations, pregnancies, and wedding engagements inundated me to no end. As a result, I sank deeper into my funk. I grew so envious of my Facebook friends that I didn’t speak to any of them, like any of their statuses, or interact with them in any way, shape, or form. I was hurting myself more than they were inadvertently hurting me.
It’s a psychological game that social media forces us to play. It forces images of perfection and happiness down our throats everyday to compel us to compete with others for attention and validation. Bad news is there’s not much we can do about it. It’s everywhere! Pinterest is entirely dedicated to making you lust after things you don’t have, and don’t get me started about Instagram. The reality is that we are being force fed images that evoke feelings of envy, inadequacy and inferiority. Social media, commercials, advertisements, Youtube videos, movies, etc. So what do we do about it? We may not be able to remove the imagery in question entirely from our lives, but we can learn to regulate how we react and do little things to push us towards true contentment.
While you may not be able to remove yourself entirely from social media, you can cut out the websites that are causing you the most grief. You don’t need to be on Facebook everyday to know what’s happening with your friends. It’s perfectly acceptable to check in once a week or once every two weeks. Whatever you feel like is best for you. Remove yourself from sites or anything that causes you to feel inferior or compels you to lust after things you don’t have. Keep in mind that if you have a website that constantly reminds you of everything you don’t have, yet it doesn’t bother you or make you feel less than, you can still use those sites. Just use them productively. They may be good idea generators for using the things you do have!
Assess Your Attitude
In a world of selfies and narcissism, it’s easy to think you deserve attention and praise. After all, John got a bunch of attention and he doesn’t even do anything important! You won’t want to hear this, but you do not deserve a bunch of attention just because you want it. You don’t deserve any more than John does. So check your ego and make sure that you don’t allow your head to swell up with envy. On the flip side, a lot of our Facebook friends actually do post impressive accomplishments and that is probably much worst. Any update of any kind is embellished with a witty quip and a filtered photograph (throw a few hashtags in there for good measure) and posted straight to social media. What people don’t realize is that while they’re posting their lives on Facebook, there is a psychological burden that their audience may face. Fact is, they probably don’t care and neither should you. Their success isn’t your failure. Their success is their success and your success is your success. Be happy for that person and move on. If it makes you feel better, begin planning the ways you want to succeed and make goals for yourself. Or you can make a list of all the things that you accomplished recently.
Understand What Happiness Isn’t
Please understand that getting a bunch of likes on Facebook or Instagram does not constitute happiness. Sure you’ll be pretty cheery about it for a while, but then you’ll crave more likes and more attention once that has worn off. The cycle never ends. Focus instead on being successful in your own way as opposed to the way that will get likes. Also keep in mind that although people have big smiles and pretty faces on Facebook, that doesn’t mean that is the end all be all. It’s a single still photograph of a single moment. In the background a lot of darker things are probably going on in their lives. Everyone is struggling with something, but their way of coping with it may be different from yours. Maybe the way they cope with hardship is to garner attention for posting pictures of the more picturesque side of their lives. The validation may help them feel better. While some of us (me included) are happiest far far away from other people. Neither of these is more right than the other. It’s just a matter of what makes you happy.
Replace Social Media
Now that you’ve purged your life of some of the more toxic social media sites, you can begin to find other things to do to fill your time. If you find yourself bored on the subway, on the bus or in line, try reading a book through the Kindle app instead. Or surf the web using Stumble Upon, an app that directs you to random websites based on your interests. Maybe listen to a podcast about old pioneers or watch a Ted Talks about something. Whatever you do, just make your not scrolling through social media for hours.
You can find the study linking depression to excessive Facebook use to depression here
How does social media affect you? How have you learned to deal with it?