How to Be Envious In the New Year
Posted on January 4, 2014
You have such a beautiful family. How did you get so lucky?
Why is it that these compliments, so wonderful and kind, make me squirm?
I’ve been thinking about my reaction for the last couple of days, and I think I’ve pinpointed an answer: it’s all comes back to the color green.
I’m not comfortable with my friends’ generous compliments, because it reminds me too much of my own thoughts when I get on Facebook. Whether or not they feel any amount of envy over my life, I don’t know, but the compliments smack of that all too familiar pang of longing I feel from time to time.
This past Fall, The New Yorker published a piece called, “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy,” in which they cite a study that shows that Facebook provides a “basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale.” I suppose in no other way throughout history, have we had such a plethora of ideals by which to compare our lives.
I don’t write this to bash Facebook. I’m not a social media hater. In fact, Facebook has provided me with the incredible opportunity to stay in touch with people whom I thought I would never see again. This alone has made my time on the site worth it. Not to mention, the wonderful platform it has created for me to connect my writing with friends who have supported me all these years.
So for me, I have no desire to boycott, abstain, or withdraw. But this realization, that by posting on Facebook I am participating in a culture of spin, has made me ask myself why? Why do I post what I post? What are my intentions for posting? Am I actively cultivating an image of myself as perfect, ideal, superior, some one to be envied? Or am I posting simply to share my life with those who are most interested?
I think there must be a line of responsibility here. I have a responsibility not to post images or status updates with the intentions of making people want to be me. For heaven’s sake, my life is blessed. I mean, come on, as I type my husband is assembling the farmhouse table he built from scratch. Let’s just take a glossy photo of that, post it, and make you all think I live a Restoration Hardware dream.
No, I live in a world where my dishes sat stacked in the sink all day, my dog pooped in his crate this morning, and I spent most of my waking hours mediating arguments between my children.
So, I want to be careful about the motives I may have, intentional or otherwise, when portraying myself to the world through Facebook, my writing, or even something as innocuous as my Christmas card.
But on the other hand, I think the line of responsibility crosses over to the other side, too. We all should have the freedom to share our lives with friends and family without the fear that our sharing will make them feel worse about their own lives. In other words, I believe I have a responsibility as a viewer to control my thoughts while participating in the on-line social hub.
You see, I have my own “celebrities” I stalk on FB. My own friend pages I return to over and over again to pore over a life that is worthy of soft-focus and romance. Seriously, how do they do it? How do they manage to have just pitch-perfect taste in ….. everything: friends, music, food, eating, walking, breathing? I’m sure these people even potty-train their kids in style. No, no. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. I am convinced they are gorgeous from the moment they open a sleep crusted eye to the moment they fall asleep in a puddle of drool.
But these friends absolutely have the right to share their lives in all their non-mainstream, earthy glory. The onus lies with me to resist the urge to compare. As I mentioned in my last post, comparison is the plague of blindness. I see only what I want to see of the other person. In the end, I see no one, not even the person I’m comparing myself too, except myself.
This is a delicate balance, no? Be honest about our own lives, while celebrating in another’s achievements and good fortune?
The problem is, this kind of balance requires an active and ongoing exercise in vulnerability and gratitude. We have to be willing to post the occasional unfiltered, un-photogenic picture. We have to let go of our “image.” This takes trust. This takes surrender.
And we have to say “thank you” like a prayer, a rosary, over and over, rolling it through our minds, our hearts, even our fingers, if need be. “Thank You” until we see our friends, our world, ourselves just as we are.