We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling through your Facebook feed when suddenly you see an update from someone you went to school with. You haven’t seen the person in years, but you used to be quite friendly. They have uploaded yet another snapshot of their seemingly perfect life; this time, they are in Australia. A few weeks ago, it was Thailand. They stand looking at the camera; tanned, smiling, content. You feel that familiar pang of….something. Envy? Maybe a little. Regret? Perhaps. You’re sitting in bed and it’s raining outside. Why did you not travel? But there’s a more apt word to describe how Facebook makes you feel….
Facebook has made me feel inadequate on numerous occasions and I hate that it has. I wish that I could have risen above such petty and unnecessary feelings, but it can be tough when you are experiencing difficulty in your own life.
Facebook is a strange place. I am Facebook “friends” with my real life, close friends. I have also been Facebook “friends” with people that I have a very tenuous association with in real life; that girl I met in a bathroom once in 2012, a guy that was friends with my secondary school best friend, the woman who used to groom my dog, and several people that I haven’t seen in person in years. To be honest, the majority of my Facebook friends are people I don’t know all that well. It is made up of people from my past, girls that I went to school with whom I have inevitably compared myself to from time to time.
Most of the time, I am happy with my life. I am proud of my achievements, I have wonderful friends and a great fiancé. But when I logged onto Facebook, I started to question all of this. Niggling doubts started to creep into my mind, and that old feeling of inadequacy came back. My friend from secondary school has a great job and is making double what I do. My other friend just swam with dolphins in Miami. My old coworkers just all went on a weekend trip to London. My old best friend is insanely popular and gets an average 200 “likes” per status update. My childhood neighbour is out every weekend, posing for photos with different people each time. They all seem to live lives that are more exciting, more successful and more fulfilled than mine. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some jealous psycho buried in a sea of Doritos and cyber-stalking my friends. I don’t resent any of them their happiness or success. I just often felt a little…
I didn’t swim with dolphins, or lie on beach in Australia watching the sun set, or lick tequila from the belly button of a Tahitian stripper. Most of the time, I’m sitting on my sofa, with a fleece blanket and my cat, by the light of a lavender scented candle (strawberry if I’m feeling adventurous).
I started to actively avoid Facebook. I noticed that it was actually affecting my mood. And it seems I’m not alone. A 2013 study showed that one in three people felt worse after logging on and scrolling through their newsfeed, and they also felt more unhappy and dissatisfied with their own lives.
That’s a whole lot of unhappy people, right? Well the good news is, for me at least, I have been able to let most of the inadequacy and envy go. I can now log on to Facebook and feel okay. I mean, I’ll never feel amazing because there’s always some duck face selfie to make me want to jump off the planet but I don’t feel like crying into my Doritos (er, I mean, kale salad) anymore.
But Jane, how did you achieve such inner peace and self-acceptance?
Well, since you didn’t ask….
I still have doubts and insecurites, but I’ve come to realise that so does everyone else.
Including my seemingly perfect Facebook friends.
To show you what I’m talking about, I shall tell you a little story. I went to school with a girl, we’ll call her Rachel. Rachel has always been a bit of a character; she’s spontaneous, wild, unpredictable. A few years ago, she left a very good job here to go and live in Australia, alone. I remember the admiration I had for her decision; I would never be able to do it. Her Facebook page was full of wonderful pictures. She appeared to be having the time of her life, and I used to breathe a wistful sigh of envy as I looked through her photos. One day, I got talking to her mother, whom I met in the supermarket. I asked about Rachel, and told her that it seemed that she was living the dream. Her mother looked confused. She told me that Rachel was calling her everyday, crying down the phone. Rachel was lonely, homesick and hating her experience over there, she told me. She desperately wanted to come home but was too embarrassed to admit it to everyone on Facebook. You might think that I felt some sense of relief, but I didn’t. I pitied Rachel. She had been a great friend of mine and I hated thinking of her in a far away place, lonely and full of regret. I got talking to her (privately) on Facebook, and she told me that she was crying herself to sleep every night. I convinced her to come home, and she’s been better since she did.
The Rachel situation taught me a lot. I realised that there’s a reason that some people constantly post about their seemingly wonderful lives on Facebook. It’s not always to brag or to be smug. These people are often very insecure and unhappy. Their posts and pictures scream LOOK AT HOW GREAT MY LIFE IS….NO REALLY, IT’S GREAT. They often have an emptiness or a void in real life, and being accepted or envied on Facebook is what they hope will fill it. It is very easy to convince people that you have an amazing life. A post about a party here, a picture of you at the beach there, and hey presto, your life is amazing. I don’t want to come across as cynical or bitter; not everyone who posts pictures of their holidays or nights out is making a statement and let’s be honest, we all do it at some stage. But we do all have that friend (or friends) whose Facebook page is a collection of smug gym selfies, condescending quotes about happiness, constant exotic location snaps and check-ins at all kinds of bars and fancy hotels. I realise that I’m probably not doing a great job of convincing you that I’ve let the envy go, but I have. I’ve figured out that on Facebook especially, appearances are very deceptive. Not everyone is as happy or fun as they are letting on. Your friends are sharing with you what they choose to share. You don’t see the struggles, the tears, the fights. But they are there, just like yours are too.
Finally, I have learned to stop constantly comparing myself to my Facebook friends. Despite the fact that I don’t intimately know all of them, I genuinely wish them well. They are on different life paths to me, and we have different life goals. While it’s natural to experience envy from time to time, it’s ultimately damaging to let it consume you. Facebook is probably the biggest source of resentment and envy for many people, so remembering that there are stories and a deeper truth behind all those posts and pictures is very important.
So take that, inadequacy. I am perfectly adequate. Except when it comes to complex maths but…