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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
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thank you for figuring out why facebook gets me down sometimes. "Compare and despair"..I need to remember that!
    2760 days ago
    I TOTALLY agree with you on this!! and glad to hear that other people feel this way too, and not just me...I only pop on there to keep in touch with some family..I'm not a big fan of FB, for me, I think it's a total waste of time..but I have to admit, i'm ADDICTED TO SPARKPEOPLE..I get soooo much form this site, i don't think it's a waste of time.., i'm improving myself, and that's what it is all about right now..and, it keeps me from eating..I do feel guilty for not being more active., not doing an excerise dvd or something, but it's good for my soul..and it keeps my mind occupied.

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2761 days ago
  • BISCO_
    Me 2!!! This is why I'm rarely on FB myself....... the 'ol compare and dispair dialogue. Thanks for sharing
    2776 days ago
    Enjoy being who you are. You are unique and I am sure there are friends who are envious of you. emoticon
    2786 days ago
    I'm sure many of your "friends" compare themselves to you as well. Perhaps you were an inspiration to your friend who wanted to live a healthier lifestyle by cooking and running because they saw your successes. I've been on fb since 04 and that's the main source of me keeping up with many people's lives. Shoot, a friend, whom I consider to be very close to announced her engagement on fb. I was hurt that something so personal and special was announced to me (and others) that way. Actually I hear a lot about my friends good fortunes on fb but maybe that's just the way things are now. I don't know. But my mama told me a long time ago that I can't measure my success against anyone else's and that I need to set my own benchmarks. I try to remember that everyday and push a little harder. I hope whatever your day brings, that it's a happy one and that you set your benchmarks high and enjoy achieving those successes.
    2786 days ago
    I've heard on the news about Facebook depression... I have never set up a facebook account... I don't think I will now.
    2786 days ago
    FB and even sparkpeople can be addicting, and we can compare ourselves badly. but like you I love hearing from friends and family moments that never get talked about at get togethers. and we have plenty of OMG moments when we, or our kids did the dumbest thing ever. of my oldest that only posts quotes from movies or songs!
    I've just found you here and will be reading more and glad to get to know you better.
    2786 days ago
  • FREES1
    its amazing just how many more words there are in the English language for negative feelings, attributes, etc than there are for positive...

    and it seems human nature not only to more celebrate and share our positive than the negative and then dwell on what we see ourselves as lacking when we compare ourselves to others...

    that last part might be more here in the US than other places and trace back to that culture that first set foot on this shore in 1620. that is personal speculation but that protestant work ethic combined with the Puritan philosophy set us up to think we never measure up!

    and whenever you feel that way please remember just how much you motivate and inspire those of us who have yet to succeed as have you! you go girl! you rock!
    2786 days ago

    Wow what a fantastic blog! Your friend is smart when she reminds you and all of us, compare and despair.

    I always read Facebook updates with a grain of salt. People do tend to put just a fraction of what they want people to see on there. Maybe your friend is counting the hours till her husband comes home so she can nag him about leaving the seat up again. Never know emoticon
    2786 days ago
    Great blog! You are right on so many levels and make some really great points.

    Not only do people post the best and brightest; but, what some people post isn't even real.

    Let's here it for some sunshine on our faces and a little less LCD glare... emoticon

    2786 days ago
    I would say you are pretty successful and have every right to brag! FB is a very important part of my life because it allows me to watch my children's lives flourish since I live across the country from my two oldest and I also take every opportunity to brag myself. I actually made it 30 minutes on the treadmill the other day for the first time and I posted it for the world to see!

    Remember, every one has a different definition of what success is and as long as you live by your own definition and not someone else's you will be fine.
    2786 days ago
    I really like that term "compare and despair" what a great reminder to focus on our own acheivements. I think this feeling is really common, and the flip side being that you may not be aware of who is looking at YOUR accomplishments and feeling the same restlessness about their own lives. Life is funny. I remember reading an article that advised to look at other people's accomplishments as examples of what is possible for your OWN life, rather than reminding yourself of what you are missing.

    You are your OWN self contained Universe, lacking in nothing, and perfect just as you are...

    2786 days ago
    I personally don't feel that way from facebook, it is very entertaining for me and at times, inspiring. But I do have a friend that gets really depressed from looking at facebook and has deleted her account several times. When she came back last, she posted that when she looks at facebook she just compares her self to all her friends pictures and it becomes an "I wish I looked like that" session - she's super gorgeous but has horrible self esteem. For her, I am like - go ahead! Turn off that facebook!!! I sent her an email yesterday to tell her that I will try to keep in touch with her that way because I miss her - she's my BFF from college and lives across the country in San Diego - I've seen her ONCE (well for my whole trip to SanDiego for the SparkConvention) since I left school and got married - in the last 7+ years! I'm HORRIBLE at keeping in touch with people I don't see face to face without the internet and I've definitely learned to use facebook as a crutch for keeping in touch with most of those people as well. I told her this and that I would reach out this way if she wanted to remove her facebook. *shrug* I haven't got a reply yet but I hope it helped to hear from me. Some people find other media to be oppressive as well - TV, magazines, etc. I just say, do what's best for you! For my friend in CA, her case is extreme and I know there are some deeper issues that need work outside of just turning off facebook - but since it's a frivolity it's not like I think she needs that work TO use facebook if you catch my drift. Just because I want her to be healthier emotionally and to be happy in general. ANYWAY! RAMBLE!
    2786 days ago
    You make so many good points here and as usual you have given me about a weeks worth of things to think about.

    I too spend more time on Facebook then I need to. It's on my PC, my tablet and my Droid!!! But I have to say the without Facebook as well as Spark I'd be a lost puppy. I have come to connect with people all over the world who share my desire to live a balanced life and that is not always availible in the small city I currently live in.

    I too compare myself with other people and think I should be doing "other things." I am learning to balance myself and take things in stride. You have been succesful in your journey so far to the point that I'll bet some days you cant imagine it getting any better. It does!!! The thing we have to realize is that the pressure that exists on us to perform beyond expectations is the pressure we put on ourselves. I woke up this morning and checked my email and saw I received another most popular blog award. My first response was "crap." I immediately began to think, "I have to write one even better today." My mood started to go south, etc. Then I thought how silly I was being.

    This may sound awfully self serving but I mostly write coz I love to write. I wake up in the middle of the night and scribble thoughts down. I love writing, but I do it for me. You have the things in your life, the running, the zen, etc that define and balance you and make you the Melissa we all cherish and love.

    Live your life for you and the rest is simply the enjoyment we get from being your friend.

    Sorry I hijacked your blog emoticon
    2787 days ago
    I think that your blog today just helped pinpoint that same feeling of BLAH that I have been having. You are exactly right when you say that people DO post the cutest, funniest, happiest parts of their day and rarely speak about any negative things that are going on....unless they are asking for prayer requests. Inevitably I end up feeling like I am not praying enough, exercising enough, loving enough.....I question whether I love my children as much as others because they are always posting new pictures, etc. Thanks for pinpointing something that has been bothering me for a while! However, I am hooked....I don't think that I could cancel my account :(
    2787 days ago
    Melissa . . . it probably hasn't occurred to you that others might be comparing themselves to you and your success, just as you have compared yourslf to your friends. It's human nature to be competitive and to want to do well. Every time I read your blog I am reminded of how much you've done and accomplished, and while I'm proud and happy for you, sometimes it causes me to wonder if I'm not doing enough, losing enough, learning enough. The truth is, when I'm impartial enough to think of it all, that I'm doing what's right for ME. I'm not in the same space as you (in terms of my life), and so my accomplishments are not comparable to yours. They're not more and they're not less . . . they're just mine instead of yours.

    On a related note, I can't give up Facebook either. I love the sense of connection it provides, and like you, I love being in touch with people that I most likely wouldn't be otherwise.

    Take care of you and continue to nurture your body and soul.
    2787 days ago
    Your so right, fb becomes an addictive part of your day, and when you are sat at home feeling a bit low it is easy to read into others and feel how much better their life is compared to yours.

    2787 days ago
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