I am. About four months ago, I jumped on the 100 Happy Days bandwagon. I thought I would get something positive out of it because the last couple of Novembers, I really enjoyed the Thankfulness Challenge, wherein I posted what I was thankful for every day of the month of November. It was a poignant and affirming experience, and I even wrote a blog about it, Being Thankful Is Pure Joy. So when I read about this one, I was really on board with it. The idea, I assume, is that if we take time each day to notice something that gives us joy for 100 days in a row, we will get in the habit of noticing the positive things in our lives and be happier in general. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, this may have worked for some people, but for me it was a total disaster. The challenge actually made me significantly less happy. The happiest moment of it was when it was over. Let me explain.
I’ve always snapped a lot of pictures. I love to scrapbook, and I really enjoy going through picture albums, remembering all the beautiful times I’ve had with family, friends, and especially, my husband. I keep play bills and movie ticket stubs from our dates to put in my scrapbooks. So as technology advanced, it was convenient to start using my iPhone as my primary camera. I started uploading pictures to Facebook and Instagram and making albums online. I enjoyed sharing my life with others, and I enjoyed seeing my friends and family’s posts as well. It all started out rather innocuously, but lately it’s gotten to be a problem. I never really noticed how obsessed with social media I was until this 100 Happy Days nonsense took over my life.
At first it was all right. I hardly had to think to come up with some cheerful thing to post. Sometimes it was quite a task to get a picture of it, especially if it was something abstract, and since I was posting to Instagram, I needed photographic evidence of my happiness. Photographic evidence–that should’ve been my first clue that it was more about who was seeing it than about me appreciating it. It didn’t take long to realize that I had begun doing things just to get a picture that would look happy. I didn’t set out to stage happiness, but it started to become just that.
At first, I just didn’t want to repost the same old thing every day and bore everyone, even if the same thing made me happy. Sometimes the day was nearly over, and I still had nothing to post, so I would just post anything, whether it made me happy or not. I would tell my husband, “I still don’t know what made me happy today, and I need a happy post.” He must have thought I was crazy. Most people would probably just skip the day if it was that difficult to come up with something, but I am OCD about stuff like this. If I commit to a challenge, I WILL finish it. But somewhere along the line, it became more about what people would see on Instagram and Facebook and less about what really brought me joy that day.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of my postings were genuine, enjoyable experiences that I wanted to share, but a couple of days, I really was not even happy, at all, about anything. I didn’t even want to be happy. I was depressed, and I didn’t want to pretend to be happy, but I did. And I regret it because I am not the type of person who only portrays my life as being perfect. I don’t just post positive things or try to make my life seem better than it is. I try to be real. I post way too much, but at least it had always been authentic up to this point. I was becoming fake as a result of what I perceived this challenge to be. But then it had an even more detrimental effect on me. I became obsessed with capturing these experiences to the point that I didn’t care so much about experiencing the moments any longer; I just wanted to document the fact that I did something, something totally for the benefit of people who probably couldn’t care less because they were busy having their own experiences and probably documenting them as well.
One example that comes to mind is regarding yet a different challenge in which I am involved, a challenge to be active this summer. This has been, for the most part, very beneficial for me. I committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, but of course, I have to post it. Well, I am not all that adventurous or athletic (understatement), so I get tired of posting that I used an exercise machine or practiced yoga every single day. I wondered how I could possibly get a better picture of this mundane activity that would be more interesting or more inspiring. So this week my friend invited me to water Zumba at her gym. I straightaway said yes because I would be able to post something active that looked enjoyable and different! I actually got more enthusiastic over the fact that I wouldn’t have to post yet another workout machine picture that day, than I did over the idea of spending time doing something fun with a good friend whose company I always enjoy. I knew at this point that I had passed from eccentricity to obsession.
However, the aspect that disturbed me even more about my posting mania was that I have begun disregarding my in-person relationships. (I refuse to call them “real” relationships because I actually know, like, and interact with almost my entire friend list in real life, and the few I have not met in person, I actually do care about and intend to meet some day.) The fact of the matter is that I am too often engrossed, nose down in my phone or tablet, oblivious to the people around me whom I love with all my heart. And to add insult to injury, I have begun making my activities with them about my next post.
My husband and I used to take short breaks from what we were doing to check email, surf the net, read the news, or check in on our friends online, and then come back together and really be together. But a couple of five minute breaks interrupting our time extended to several minutes throughout the evening once I got an iPad, and then my use became almost constant. I was consumed with it. Now I miss what is going on in movies and am only half in conversations. My husband pointed it out once in a while, but I didn’t realize how perpetual it had become until he started engaging in the same behavior. Suddenly, he was on his phone reading during a movie or while I was talking. Recently, he said he wanted an iPad for his birthday, and I thought, Oh no, he’s going to be just like me, and we’ll never talk again. It was then that I realized that I have to break the habit of constantly reporting to and checking on social media. No more challenges; I’m going to do things because I want to do them. When I am with someone, I will not be staring at my phone or iPad, I will be with them, making eye contact, listening fully. I will still take photographs, but I won’t post them until I’m alone, and we are done with whatever we were doing.
Why not stop altogether? Because social media has actually improved some of my relationships. Because of Facebook, I am friends with people at work whom I didn’t even know before except by name. It put more than a face to a name for me. I know if they have kids, what their hobbies are, what they think about, how they live, even some of their beliefs. We chat with each other, something we don’t have time to do at work. I actually know who they are in a way that I would never have time to discover in the busyness of the workday. The same is true for people at church. I know people at church better from Facebook than from the few minutes we’ve spoken when we pass each other before and after a service. The comfort level for making friends is higher online than in person, especially for shy or introverted people. We can see what interests them and what we have in common, and strike up a conversation based on that easier than simply introducing ourselves and making meaningless small talk. I have even become “in-person” friends as a result of getting to know people better on Facebook.
I also have met people in other states and countries with whom I share a great deal in common, and I feel like we have truly become friends, no less than if I saw them at work every day. And I have reconnected and kept up with old friends whom I rarely see or that have moved away. I am interested in their daily posts and pictures, but only if they are showing their real selves, rather than an artificial representation of what they think would entertain us.
Check out this particularly apropos video: “What’s on Your Mind?
For me the solution is not to give up social media altogether or to go on a technology fast for a couple of weeks, but to put limits on when I use it. I intend to keep posting what’s going on in my life, what makes me happy, what has me down, but only what’s genuine, and only when I want to. I will not be forced into it by a happiness challenge or any other kind of challenge. I don’t mean to disparage any of theses challenges for people who enjoy them and get some positive effect from them. If it really makes you happy, go for it. For me, it changed my sincere sharing to meaningless tasks and took me away from being present with people and activities that used to truly make me happy. So starting today, I will only peruse social media when I am not with a real person. I will not ignore the people I am with in favor of staring at a device any longer. So here’s my happiness challenge: Do what actually makes you happy and share it if you want to–I’d like to see it, but be fully in the experience of what you are doing and with whom you are spending time. Use social media to enhance your relationships and to reach out to those with whom you cannot be physically present; use it when you are alone and don’t want to be, but don’t use it to be alone when you are not.–Christina Knowles