Compare & Despair: Or How Facebook is Messing With My Life
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Two days ago I was tooling around mindlessly on the internet (a favorite, useless pastime I've been trying--and failing--to cut back on). As I scroll through friends' facebook status updates and other mindless dribble, I notice I have an increasing sense of heaviness, sadness, and anxiety that wasn't there mere moments before. Where was this coming from? What had I read that made me feel this way? I scrolled back quickly through the myriad status updates in search of what terrible news brought on this feeling.
But it's nothing. Or, more precisely, what left me feeling so low had nothing to do with any one particular pal's (or acquaintance's) melencholy status update. Rather, it was all the supposed "GOOD" news that affected me so heavily.
It's not that I'm not happy for my individual friends' happiness, mind you. I'm thrilled that one friend managed his fastest 5k time to date, warmed by the information that another friend's son just took his first steps, thrilled for another friend that she's so happy with her marriage and counting down the hours until her husband returns home, excited that another friend had a successful day on her diet, thrilled that an old buddy is premiering his film four years in the making at an indie festival this spring, and tickled pink that another friend, who always hated both cooking and running, is now opening up to both for the sake of bettering his health.
However, I often find as I'm reading through this litany of good news, I start feeling more and more anxious, heavy, sad. Why? A former mentor of mine used to say, "compare and despair" when I held myself up to the standards and achievements of others. On the other side of the happiness I feel for my friends is a very real anxiety. Each of their pleasures and good fortunes is individually easy to honor and celebrate. Taken en masse, however, they stir me into believing I should be doing more--or I should be doing different, in addition to, instead of. Maybe I should be working on bettering my OWN 5k pace. Maybe I should be having kids after all? Why don't I count down the hours until Dan comes home? Do I not love him enough? Maybe I should be dieting? Maybe I should be syncing a run to my nike (and facebook) accounts at 10:00 PM instead of going to bed. Oh, and also, I had a pretty terrible day today. Seems like everyone else had a good day here. So what's wrong with me? You get the picture.
I know I'm not the first person to have this experience, and consequently not the first person to have these thoughts. Obviously, we all have good and bad days, and most days we have a little bit of both mixed in. While there are, of course, exceptions, most of us choose not to post about the terrible things going on in our lives, our doubts, insecurities, or the slew of unpleasantries we each face as a natural part of the day. Instead, we post the happiest or cutesiest--or most successful--parts of our days. We choose this with intention--no matter how aware or not we are of it--perpetually aware that what we say and how we choose to represent ourselves has influence over how others perceive us and our lives.
As the reader of other peoples' posts, we're taking in a (usually) carefully crafted update of other peoples' days--or moments. If I don't stay mindful of this fact, I'll find myself back in that space where I believe I must not be doing enough, must not be happy enough, must not fill-in-the-blank enough, and clearly I'm the only person who's not perenially happy. Sure, I didn't best my 5k time today, but I reached a personal best a few weeks back. I might not have run at 10:00 tonight, but that's because I prioritize rest at a reasonable hour--and ran already that morning. Sure, having kids is probably pretty amazing, but there's nothing wrong with choosing not to have them. I don't count the hours until Dan comes home, but I sure do love him and have a lot of trust and faith in that love. And dieting? I'm maintaining my weight loss and "dieting" was never a part of that, I'm proud to say. How quickly though I can get caught up in believing I'm so inadequate--or my life, my career, my workouts, my relationships, my pastimes, my ways of seeing the world are in themselves inadequate--if I don't keep in perspective what's being shared, what's NOT being shared, and how much this all really doesn't have a thing to do with me or my life.
I keep threatening to cancel my facebook account, but the truth is I like having access to people who otherwise, by nature of geography, I wouldn't get to hear so much from. I also love having the opportunity to belong to and interact with groups that give me a sense of community I wouldn't otherwise get to have around specific issues it's GOOD to have community around. I keep thinking that it will come to me naturally to spend less time checking out status updates, but I think breaking any compulsive or addicting pattern takes conscious energy and effort. Giving up on checking in isn't unlike giving up junk food. On the surface, junk food seems so pleasureable, but when you start getting real about how it's making you feel, giving it up seems like the obviously right thing to do. This morning I removed facebook from my tab of home pages. It's no mystery that these days I prefer my life simple and unfettered. Facebook, for now, is just too... well, fettering. I know I'll still check in, same as I still occasionally dapple in junk food. But in time, it will seem less appealing. This is a start.
My love and best wishes through all parts of your days today--good, bad, and otherwise, worthy of a status update or no. Who you (we) are, and what you (we) do is both remarkably amazing and unremarkably ordinary. Both are normal. :-) xo