The grass is always greener
My two eldest have mobile phones and after a few months of being given them, my husband and I allowed them to have a profile on a social media platform. I ensure we have regular conversations about e-safety, boundaries such as no phones at the table, switching phones off when they go to bed, family time with no devices etc. We also talk about the upsides and the downsides of social media – how it can raise awareness of social issues, help people connect if they feel isolated and it can enhance learning by getting knowledge from renowned experts and professionals. However, it’s also understanding that just because something is on social media, it isn’t always factual, that people can be keyboard warriors and that very often, we see people’s enhanced highlights but rarely the behind the scenes reality.
I once read an article in The Guardian on the topic of social media and how envy is created around everyone’s seemingly perfect world, as usually portrayed on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
These types of articles always seem to be written as if we have no say in how we feel - that our emotions are involuntary reactions to what is going on around us. This is of course not so, and there will hopefully be many of you, especially those of you who have been on a Winning Edge course, who will be nodding along with me.
Everything always starts with a thought – random emotions do not just pop into our head without first us becoming aware of something. We need that awareness and then our brain processes what we’ve heard or seen, we then develop an emotion in response, and this might be expressed through our behaviour. So, we might see a new post on Facebook, we then process this and then attach an emotion, depending on our own individual Mental Map and our unique value chain. Maybe we crave sunshine in the winter and see a friend’s photos of them in Thailand on lush shores looking sun-kissed, or maybe happy family snaps and long for our family to have times like that. It depends what’s important to us because the photos of stuff we’re not interested in, will just pass us by.
The green-eyed monster’s got me on the run
Why might we be feeling envious of posts we see on Facebook? Psychologists interviewed for the Guardian piece discussed this notion of social media envy – people feel envious about what they’re seeing online because they want this lifestyle. I call Facebook Farcebook because let’s face it, for a large proportion of it, people are only posting their highlights. There are very few people who will detail what a crappy day they’ve had, that they’re finances are in dire straits, that they’re marriage is heading down the pan and their relationship with their kids is pretty awful. No, what we’ll see instead are some heavily filtered snaps en famille on holiday, with everyone smiling and laughing. What we don’t know is that behind the scenes, the minute Mum suggested taking a picture, everyone squawked, flatly refused to have a photo taken and only through bribery and a sun-kissed filter, did the photo we all see on Facebook arise.
It's all about envying something we don’t at that moment in time have, and we want it too.
Celebrities are followed in their millions on social media - the rich and famous who seem to have it all. People aspire to be like them, to have what they have. There seems a lack of satisfaction with who they are and what they have in their life. Similarly, people seek out Instagrammers who’ll give them tips on make-up application and hairstyles - so they can look different and perhaps feel better about themselves. This to me though is the outside-in approach, as opposed to the tried and tested inside-out method.
As the Guardian writer said, envy has existed for centuries and was written about by Greek philosophers. Back in the days before social media, we’d be envious of the neighbours and they’re swanky new car or plush sofa but now, it’s in our face 24-7 and we know globally what kind of life people lead and what they have so now social media envy is a term and there are tips on how you can combat it. If of course, it hasn’t led to depression, because apparently, social media can cause depression… (I need to take a deep breath when I type this because this goes against the grain of the Winning Edge!)
Freedom of choice
Who is creating these feelings of envy? The Instagrammer? The Facebook poster? Neither. We have a choice as to how much we access social media and we can choose the way we think about what we see, hear and read. We can also choose whether we are passive voyeuristic bystanders or whether we actively participate and contribute, which is far less likely to have an impact on the envy scale because we’re actually engaging with people.
I confess that I’m an old-fashioned gal and I haven’t exactly fallen in love with social media. I don’t think I’m the only one and several of my friends take a hiatus from Facebook. Indeed, it’s very often now in the top 10 things to give up for Lent. It’s never permanent though, people will very often go back which I put down to FOMO… It’s a paradox really – that fear of missing out versus the envy.
“A person is limited only by the thoughts that they choose.” James Allen
So, what do you do? I’ll bang that drum again – mindset. The way you think about what you think about is far more important than what you think about. If you’re using social media as a way of connecting to family and friends, be aware that the nature of the beast is that it’s the highlights rather than their lowlights they’re usually posting. If they’ve good news, great, celebrate. If you find yourself feeling envious, think about why that is. In these instances, I always find it helpful to ask myself ‘Oh that’s interesting Kirsty, why do you think you’re feeling like this?’ Introspection is a gift for us humans, so use it. Perhaps you’re feeling envious because there’s something lacking in your life? Maybe it’s a bit of a wake-up call… Are you on the treadmill working at the same company for 20 years, no perks, same thing day in day out and maybe your friend’s new job role will spur you on to make a long overdue change. Do your cousin’s holiday snaps lead you to think that perhaps that familiar resort in Majorca you love so much and return to every year, may just have served its time… Perhaps somewhere different will bring new enriching experiences…
Social media isn’t all bad. In fact, none of it is bad – it’s only as good or bad as you decide it is. Decide to be conscious about the way you’re thinking about social media. You can take it or leave it and when you do engage with it, the way you respond to what you see, hear and read is entirely of your choosing.
And that goes for anything in life – we have the ability to choose the way we think about a situation. We may desire what someone else has, or we fall out with someone, or work is challenging, the neighbours are being a pain etc etc. None of these situations can make us feel anything. It cannot cause depression – that will come about because of the way we choose to think about it. Don’t get me wrong, we might find ourselves in hugely challenging situations but when we cannot change the situation we find ourselves in, we need to change the way we’re thinking about it. Mindset sits at the core of how we feel. Fact.