Social Media and the Pursuit of Happiness
In an age of social interconnectedness—where people share their lives to a public audience of friends, family, and strangers alike—we are presented with daily images of a carefully moderated Utopia. Friends post photos of their exotic travels, classmates announce their impressive achievements, and celebrities share glimpses of a world we’ll never experience. This constant barrage of happiness and success can cause many to be disillusioned. Because most people post content based on how they would like to be perceived, we play along with the lie that social media tells us: that we are our accomplishments.
Although we are more connected than ever, these portrayals of perfection can cause many to feel isolated because their lives are not perfect. They may feel inferior, especially if their lives have fallen upon hard times. Our lives can seem mediocre compared to the lives of our peers and while it is important not to compare ourselves to those around us, it is difficult not to when we are always up to date with the goings-on of their lives.
The effects of this superficial stream can often result in negative outcomes to our mental health. Symptoms of depression such as feelings of worthlessness are elevated by others’ success stories. Once more, those experiencing depression may not know who to turn to because it seems like no one can relate. As acknowledged by Julie Scelfo in her article “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection,” this becomes a major problem in the competitive college environment. Students face an enormous amount of pressure to excel academically, land premier internships, and have an Instagram-worthy social life. With this ongoing pressure, more and more college students experience mental illness each year and suicide rates among young adults have steadily increased.
This is no coincidence. Our culture of “likes” and “retweets” has instilled in us a desire to impress. However, when we experience failure, it is difficult to prevent feelings of inadequacy. We want to be able to show the world how amazing we are, but that becomes challenging when we feel insecure. At the same time, most people are not publicly open about their hardships unless they can gain sympathy or admiration. While having an online profile makes people vulnerable to the judgement of others, this vulnerability is limited and calculated. We choose to share the things we want people to see and “untag” or “hide” the things we don’t.
This practice of social shielding directly affects our ability to be vulnerable in real life. It becomes harder to reach out and ask for help since we become programmed to present ourselves a certain way; being vulnerable means tarnishing the image we so carefully crafted and doing so might result in an unfavorable opinion or a weakened relationship. For those struggling with their mental health, though, it is imperative that they reach out to others since supportive relationships are vital to their recovery. It is also important for people to be able to acknowledge when someone is not doing well, but that can be difficult when that person has painted a cheerful picture of themselves on their various social media accounts.
While social media makes sharing life events much easier, it can also make interpreting reality much harder. It is easy to believe that everyone else is breezing through life while you’re barely making ends meet. However, the truth cannot be found simply by viewing a person’s feed. Instead, we have to challenge the Facebook illusion and recognize that people’s lives are much more complicated than an amalgamation of status updates and profile pictures. Happiness and success are not the norm—they are the highlight reel.