Before the dawn of social media, we only dreamed of how the other half lived. Now we get to see it. And I wonder about the effect this is having on our souls.
Through the lens of select images and sound bites everyone looks happier, prettier, thinner and more fulfilled than they really are. Comparing those images to the unedited version of our own lives, it’s not hard to imagine why we feel slightly depressed.
A friend of mine named Mike Yaconelli used to say: “Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about someone else.” Through the internet, we’ve turned that into an art.
Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of social media that I love: the ability to see pictures of family far away, and stay in touch with friends I no longer see. It’s the wistful dissatisfaction that comes with it I could live without. In the olden days, we used to feel that way when we picked up a magazine or turned on the TV, and saw people we could later convince ourselves “weren’t really real.” Now we see people we know are real. And they look like they are living a much better life than the one we have. We forget that when they look at us they feel the same way.
Not many of us race to the screen to post pictures of the meltdown our child just had. Or the one we just had. But catch us in front of a sunset, or dressed up on a date, celebrating an honor roll or little league championship, and the camera is out, ready to post. Perpetuating the “perfect life” myth for all to enjoy.
Then we get off camera and live our real lives. And after viewing other people’s images, we have that gnawing sense that if only we could…do…. be …. have ….look like…. THEN we would be happy. Something is missing.
And the longer we think about it, the bigger it gets.
The virtual world we live in confronts us minute by minute with more, better and new– even when we are not looking for it. I can remember the first time I was writing an email and saw advertisements related to the words I was typing pop up on the margin of the screen. I wrote the word “vacation” and suddenly, there was Bora Bora– and I immediately visualized myself sitting by the ocean, sipping a drink in a coconut. Within minutes my desk, my home, and for that matter my life, looked a lot less appealing.
Because we are confronted with an endless barrage of messages telling us what we need to be happy, I have found the word “remember” to be an important word. This word has always been important, as it is found multiple times in the Bible– spoken to a world that existed long before the virtual world came to be. The word was used by God to draw people back to who they were and what they had, so they didn’t throw it all away for something they’d soon discover would never be.
The promise of more, bigger, better, other, is an empty promise– and we discover that when we get it. We have only to pursue the other man (or woman), the new job, the shiny car, or the expensive trinkets to realize when something is finally ours, it eventually becomes what we no longer want. The secret is remembering how we once felt about what we already have.
Because the truth is, happiness is not found in getting what we want, but wanting what we already have.
And suddenly, the perfect life is ours.