Facebook Isn't Making You Sad

In the past couple of years a few friends told me they'd quit using Facebook because they were sick of people trying to make their lives look perfect via status updates and shared photos; comparing themselves and their own lives to these "perfect" friends was depressing/annoying enough that they'd preferred to opt out altogether.

I pressed one of my friends on this to learn more. From her perspective, people were always trying to one-up each other and to make other people feel bad in their Facebook posts. This worked to make my friend feel self-conscious, angry, and in a state of disbelief about the true happiness of these friends whose so-called perfect lives were clogging up her newsfeed.

I have a hard time identifying with this outlook.

It's not that I don't believe it may sometimes seems people are trying to make their lives look perfect on social media. In fact, I imagine people may put me into that category, given that I choose to keep what I post mostly positive and I generally post pictures featuring smiling people (though I stop short of untagging myself from unflattering pictures). I am not such a simpleton that I can't understand where this sentiment comes from.

I just find it unfortunate that anyone would choose to internalize these posts from others and let them ruin their own experience with what I think is a pretty entertaining way to connect with people and learn more about their lives.

There are a few ways to look at the people who seem to share nothing but their own perfection online:

Perhaps they refrain from posting the less-than-glowing moments because they are embarrassed or ashamed about them. Who can't relate to that?

Perhaps they don't like to dwell on the negative because they believe it prolongs the return to happier places. I respect that and I fall into that category as well. Yes, lame stuff happens or I get into a funk for no reason at all. I will allow myself what I believe is an appropriate amount of time to feel shitty, but I don't necessarily want to post all over the place about it and drag every friend, family member or acquaintance into my little mud pit. I will share those trials with my honey or a trusted friend or family member and work on through it in a less public way (unless I'm working through it on this blog, haha). Maybe happy over-posters are annoying, but if so then so are super negative people who are always posting complaints and rants.

Perhaps people are choosing to share the good and happy and cheesy-as-fuck stuff going on in their lives because they're operating under the preposterous notion that their "friends" are actually their friends. They imagine these friends may be interested in the positive things happening in their lives. They imagine it would make their friends feel joyful to know one of their own made good or found a nice person to love or has a child he adores or is just so damned excited to be where she is at the moment that she had to stop and "check in." It makes me really sad to think these people are mistaken about their "friends"--who, it turns out, are not truly friends at all but rather ill-wishers there only to spy on and measure up against and make fun of and resent.

Finally, there is the possibility these perfect posters truly ARE out to make themselves look better than everybody else and to make other people feel jealous or inferior. I believe this would have to be the rare exception. If I know anybody like this, I am unaware of it. If I know anybody who exhibits behavior even *close* to this, I may also know of some insecurity there that is being (over) compensated for. While I may experience annoyance, I should simultaneously strive to be compassionate and to give the benefit of the doubt. So Janie Awesome wants to make herself look good. So what? So crucify her.

To me, the interesting question that arises from Janie Awesome's posts is not so much "Why does she do that?" but "Why does it bother me?"

People are annoying sometimes, people! I mean, that's the nature of people. I don't think Facebook is to blame here. It's just that Facebook concentrates all those potentially annoying behaviors into a condensed little feed, and seeing a few of them in a row can just smack some people down and leave them feeling done with the whole thing.

But this is really too bad. If somebody's behavior were really that annoying to me via Facebook, chances are it would be pretty annoying to me in real life too...and I wouldn't be hanging out with that person.

Which brings me to the bottom line question that I think arises from my imagined annoyance with Janie Awesome's posts, which is "Why am I "friends" with her?"

As I write this, I'm thinking of a few situations in which I've experienced the very dynamic I referred to in the beginning of this--negative reactions to posts I've seen in my newsfeed. There have been times I've felt pressure to "friend" a person for political reasons, or as a seemingly complex matter of fairness. I'm sure I've been "friended" for similar reasons. It happens now and then. Sometimes I don't consider these people true friends, and it's posts from people in that category that leave me feeling most likely to having negative reactions.

But I don't like having ill feelings toward people who are just sharing what they feel moved to share on a site I joined voluntarily and which I voluntarily visit. I also don't want to unfriend these people because it violates the principals behind my accepting the friend request in the first place.

I think one viable solution in this situation is to hide the posts of that person. I save both of us whatever invisible, yucky outcomes are resulting from my negative reactions to their posts.

A more ambitious and grown-up solution would be for me to move ever more diligently toward true authenticity...to be in a place where I would never be fake "friends" with somebody for "political reasons or seemingly complex matter of fairness." I'm getting there.

An even more ambitious and grown-up solution would be for me to take absolute responsibility for my own life and my own emotional responses. In so doing, I'd realize there is nothing in the world a person can post about his or her own life or state of happiness that should cause me to feel bad about myself or what's going on in mine.

Happiness should perpetuate itself, and if I am in a healthy emotional place (regardless of my current circumstances), I will see that one person's expression of joy should not feel threatening. On the contrary, it is a wonderful reminder to me of the joyful experience available to all of us. I am reminded again of the Marianne Williamson quote at the bottom of this blog.

As is true about most things, getting to this ideal place I'm speaking of is a process for me and I don't believe it to be easy. I will see posts that I react negatively to from time to time. I just want to remember that Facebook isn't causing me to feel unhappy. My friends' behaviors (unless they are cruelly and unkindly directed at me) are also not causing my unhappiness. Whatever is at the root of it is within me, and it is there that I can turn things around.

So please, don't desert Facebook just yet. I still want to see what you have to share, even if it makes you appear outrageously content and well-adjusted. 

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