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Keep a Healthy Relationship With Social Media

First of all, let me say that I am not completely anti-social media. Social media has been a great way for me to do things like promote my music, to reconnect with long lost friends, and it has been an integral part of getting this Choose Happiness content out to people. I am not against it whatsoever. But I am in favor of people using it wisely, safely, and in a healthy way that makes it add value to their lives, instead of becoming their reason for living.

I know someone who posts every single day, often several times per day. Her life seems to be ruled by her posts, and it seems like nothing she does “counts” until it is posted and she gets the affirmation she’s craving from other people’s virtual thumbs ups and happy faces. She posts when she bakes something, she posts when she’s working hard, she posts when the dog is sleeping on her lap, and I’m sure she posts plenty of other things that I don’t actually know about since I stopped following her a few years ago.

I’ve actually stopped following a lot of people and concurrently have consciously limited my exposure to most social media due to the recent political unrest and the damaging vitriol that people feel the need to spew out into the world on a regular basis. Plus I have taken heed of the hundreds of scientific studies that have shown that human beings are happier overall when they limit their attention to social media and pay more attention to nature, a tactile hobby, and fostering connections with real, in-the-flesh humans rather than the virtual ones online.

(And I won’t even get into all of the horrible scams and targeting phishing and criminal false identity things that go on daily, that seem to be out there only to hurt and take advantage of people. Social media can be dangerous and should be handled accordingly.)

But back to my former friend, who was a big catalyst in my decision to limit my social media attention. When I first met her, she would constantly complain about her husband and their terrible, toxic marriage. She would go on and on about the things they said to each other and how much she wanted to leave him and I was the supportive friend, listening over and over and encouraging her to do what was right for her and her son.

Imagine my surprise when shortly after one of these conversations, she would post a smiling photo of her and her husband, smiling broadly while clinking wine glasses with the caption, “Date night with my love.” Or the day after she was crying to me about something that had happened, posting a selfie of the two of them, grinning with their heads together with the caption, “Me and my cute hubby. How lucky am I?”

Kind of makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it.

She also confided in me about her son’s drug use and how he had run away from home twice, and that same year, when the holidays rolled around, there were the three of them in their blemish-free, wrinkle-free, not-a-hair-out-of-place-thanks-to-Photoshop Christmas card, hands entwined with the message, “Holiday Wishes From Our Love-Filled House To Yours.”

Now clearly this woman had a pathological need to show the world that everything was spectacular in her life, regardless of what was really going on, and obviously felt the overwhelming need to create a fantasy for the outside world to see. Which has a lot to say about her own pathological need for approval and to always put a bright face on even when it was a total lie. Which got me thinking…

Hearing one thing come out of her mouth and seeing something completely different made me think to myself…which one was the lie? I mean, I thought all of the negative stuff she was talking about was the truth and the photos were the lie, but what if she just wanted attention and sympathy from me and things were not actually as bad at home as she was presenting face-to-face. I’ll never know and it doesn’t matter, but the point is, so much of social media IS in fact, a lie, and we’re foolish to believe that people are posting anything other than neatly curated “highlight” reels of their lives and the goings on inside them.

I think it’s really sad that so many people, especially kids, have their happiness determined by how many positive responses they get to their posts. I also think it’s incredibly sad and hurtful when kids are told by their friends that they aren’t free to get together, and then they see those same friends posting happy selfies with other people, sending the very clear message that a person was deliberately left out and ostracized from a group. We’re supposed to be teaching kids to live their lives authentically and genuinely, which only happens when we all don’t care about what others are thinking, but social media can make that nearly impossible.

Again, social media isn’t inherently bad, but putting so much of our time and effort into scrolling and posting and waiting for “likes” has been proven to be unhealthy for our psyches and can be a real impediment to finding true happiness in our daily lives. Yes it’s fun to post vacation photos and inspirational quotes and to see what old friends and their kids are up to. But when the posting and the approvals become an addiction, and we’re spending more time inside on social media than outside and interacting with the world, then that’s a recipe for unhappiness, and that’s not what we’re seeking here.

I saw this quote the other day: ”Giving up social media for even just 7 days boosts happiness and reduces anger and feelings of loneliness.”

I’m not suggesting giving it up entirely, unless that’s what’s right for you and the happiest life you can lead, but that finding really puts things into perspective. I feel like we should all have enough going on in our lives and be so engrossed in our own pursuits and endeavors that we don’t have time to stop and watch what other people are doing. We should be so filled up with our own happiness and contentment that we don’t feel the overwhelming need to share it for others’ acknowledgment or approval. Why should what someone else thinks of what we’re doing matter so much? And why do we put so much emphasis on what we believe other people are thinking of us? No one and nothing besides our own heart and head deserve that kind of power over our own happiness.

Here’s a good test to see where you are: When you’re on social media I would ask yourself, “How does this make me feel? Am I lifted up, encouraged, joyful, excited about life, inspired, or comforted?” Or does it make you feel jealous, angry, dissatisfied, anxious, downtrodden, or miserable? Really check in with yourself and make your decision based on those feelings.

Happiness is a choice, and we can always choose to put down the phone or turn off the computer. Those don’t have to be guidelines in our lives because I can guarantee you, they will never bring you the true happiness you’re looking for. How could they? They don’t care about you, they do not have your best interests at heart, and they are not your friends, no matter how often they are by your side.

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