Online happiness is difficult for many of us to swallow. That person with the picture perfect life. That old friend who seems to have all the Twitter luck. The Facebook relative who gently taps away at the foundations of what you thought you had. All by simply by being there in front of you.
Ah social media, why do you get everyone’s knickers in a twist? From conspiracies about the wealth of information being sold to 3rd parties to online bullying, claims of narcissism or inventing too much online happiness, you’ve really ruffled feathers, haven’t you?
And it’s probably the reason you are reading this right now.
Sometimes I can see a need to dial it down but for the most part, I wonder if we’re forgetting something fundamental about how humans respond to who we are?
You see, I think because we know we die and we know that may very well be the end of things, we’re driven by an urge to leave our mark on the world. And that we always have been this way. It’s just that with the technology being available to so many people, we see more things produced by more people.
Easier self publishing of thoughts, life, ideas and creativity simply means there is more of it. Not that our attitude is any more selfish or psychologically unhealthy.
Here’s why we need to stop blaming online happiness on people and start reflecting on what that says about ourselves
Understanding why we share online the way we do
I think we’re all fairly familiar with the idea of someone photographing their perfect life on Instagram or Facebook. We’re equally familiar with people having a rant, rave and a whine on social media, too.
Before social media was popular, in fact before most of them existed in the forms we know now, Patricia Wallace wrote a book entitled Psychology of the Internet. It talked about disinhibition. Disinhibition is used to describe the missing connection between action and consequence when people are on the internet. It discusses trolls, adopting personas and practising behaviours we would otherwise deem socially unacceptable because of the lack of actual consequences to daily life. Our inhibitions are lowered because while the behaviour is external and shared among a group, it doesn’t quite feel real.
Unlike getting drunk and abusing a bunch of people at a party, getting drunk and abusing a bunch of people online has less significant impact on our social, work or family life. We can compartmentalise it or excuse it. Or even go so far as to create an alternate identity. And that because of the unreal nature of the interaction, the lack of facial cues and no real time response to what we say, life on the internet is rooted soundly in the surreal. So any misbehaviour is easier to dismiss.
We lose our inhibitions because we have no proof of consequence. Bad behaviour seems justified because there are no ramifications for it. We can also invent a new persona that is happier, wittier or much more social than the usual reserved, cautious and shy person we may be in person.
But these aren’t magical sides of us that have appeared from nowhere- they are after all, part of the very same person. The mode of communication does not dictate a new level of thinking; it simply increases its ability to be expressed. A troll will still want to take pleasure in causing problems. A person who takes a lot of photos of their own face is still trying to express, immortalise or discover who they are. It’s merely amplified online.
Actually, you could argue that social media gives us the opportunity to spot the jerks and the lovely wall flowers quicker, thus giving us a better chance of spotting who we like and who we want to avoid. You could also argue it gives people who would usually be drowned out by stronger personalities in social situations the opportunity to share their life on equal terms online.
Is it a problem with me posting, or you viewing what I post?
How far removed can a form of communication be from a real person when it is merely a tool?
1. It implies humans are honest to each other and themselves in an offline context. This isn’t true. We are just as adept at wearing masks online as off.
2. All communication has two parties, communicator and recipient. How the communicator sends the message is one half, how the person receiving it responds is another. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable with their happy news, is it really the happy person’s fault?
3. The audiences of real life and online life are different, and thus the presentation of information is different. If I have something private, dark and difficult to discuss, it’ll be with 2 or 3 select people in a closed forum of communication- whether that’s in person or email. If I’m having a general experience, such as shitty clients or a bad run on the buses, I’ll share this with a group as opposed to ringing up a best friend.
This doesn’t mean I present a special version of me, it simply means I’m aware that different audiences will appreciate and reciprocate with different messages. What we share with 200 people is of course going to be different than what we share with 2. So there is self editing. So what?
Expressing yourself (and your online happiness) is good for you
Why do we object so heartily to online happiness? Is social media much different from keeping a journal of thoughts and feelings? Or having a slideshow to trot out during dinner parties?
Well, it’s probably not as personal but consider this: Looking back at what you’ve achieved online through your milestones and comments, likes and goals you’ve set can actually be quite good for you.
By sharing your wins and have your friends online affirm those wins, you feel better about your achievements. When friends offer words of comfort during a bad time, it helps us get through it.
Social media is just a tool to project online happiness
Social media communication is just like any other form. If you’re honest, choose the right people to share things with, don’t make it an endless parade of the “all about you” show, it’ll usually work out fine.
You’ll find the odd person who will be jealous of you, or question your motives, try to derail your happiness, but so what?
You’re not in charge of providing them with meaning in their life. You’re in charge of cultivating it in your own.
If you want to be happy online, why shouldn’t you be?