Yesterday someone I know posted a status on Facebook that essentially said: “I’m annoyed by people who post only positive status updates about their lives. I don’t think those people are very honest or real.”
Which is pretty much me. My status updates I mean – it’s very intentional that I post positive comments and things I’m excited about instead of negative or complaint posts (there are plenty of them out there without my help!) I don’t think it makes me false, however, or less than honest because in real life I also keep the complaining to a minimum. I mean really, what’s the point of cynicism and negativity over stuff you can’t change anyway?
And my biggest struggles – the existential hurdles and the inner frustrations? Are those really the world’s business? I don’t make them everyone’s business in face-to-face conversations so why would I broadcast those to hundreds of people who I don’t know that well?
The truth is, it’s a lot of work to make an awesome life and for the most part I’m successful at it. In face-t0-face interactions and online I try to tell people exactly how much they mean to me on a regular basis. In real time I eschew cynicism and negativity because it doesn’t help me to wallow in the things that hurt me and as someone who has battled depression it’s downright essential that I recast negative emotions. When I encounter a challenge I really do talk myself through it in a positive way. And yes – this is how I want the world to perceive me. Why would that be a problem?
I get that social media can make people feel like they don’t measure up in some way to other people (recent studies show just that), and that the projection of perfection can be a downer. One school friend said to me recently that whenever he sees my husband’s status updates (much of which revolve around cooking, naked hot-tubbing and playing music) he feels he’s living his life wrong. That does suck – I know, especially for this friend who is young, insecure and attempting to construct himself in the world.
On the other hand – eyeing things via social media or other interaction that make us feel “jealous” can be motivators for change. I can still remember walking into a home of some very cool adults when I was eighteen and thinking: “Damn. This is the kind of home I want, the kind of community I want around it.” Twenty-two years and much work (and luck) later, I can honestly say that envy propelled me to build (with others) this epicenter of my life that nourishes and fulfills me in a fundamental way.
For other people it might be someone’s travel posts that make them feel “left out” of the fun being had out there – but I have a co-worker who doesn’t make a ton of money and she manages to travel three times a year because she eschews many things and lives a frugal life when she is in Vancouver working. If I felt jealous at her many travels, I too could make choices that enabled me to travel more (like not owning a home with a massive mortgage for starters).
Don’t get me wrong here – I am not robotically immune from feeling pangs of envy or wondering how it seems that our friends have a lot more money to do stuff than we do. But I do make an effort to drop those feelings as soon as they arise and counter them with the recollection of all I am grateful for in my life.
What I recognize when I do that is that a good life is hard work (the effort you put in is the effort you get out). This is also true for those people in my feed who are living interesting/exotic/alluring lives — whatever path they chose equally required work and dedication towards their specific objectives. I’d rather be happy for them than annoyed or jealous or cynical – for my life is in no way diminished by their success and happiness.
My life of course has its annoyances and heartaches and depressions. I wish I was thinner. My job isn’t always awesome. I feel saddled by mortgage debt at times and I worry about money.
And so what? I don’t want to live as an example of worry. I really do want my life to be full of the things that inspire: music, sex, good food, nature, creativity and the like – and so I project those online and in the real too. To some degree we are who we are perceived to be – and we live up to what people think about us. With this in mind, I would rather live up to gratitude and mirth than any other traits that might exist – and so yes, that is the me who exists in public a great deal of the time.
This is not a challenge to anyone else – how they should construct their online identity, what authenticity means when transmitted to thousands of people – but it is a question. Who are you and who do you want to be?