What does success mean to you? How do you define this often elusive goal? What might a successful life look like to you?
Take a moment to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine yourself on your deathbed reflecting on and reviewing your life. Upon careful and thoughtful reflection, would you consider your life a success? Why or why not?
Too often in our increasingly competitive, connected, and often Darwinian world we are told in multiple ways that success is defined by money, power, fame, and basically being better than everyone else! In America it seems like the meta-message is “more is always better than less” and that you can never be satisfied until you have more than what you have now (even if what you have now is pretty darn good) and more than everyone else around you.
Media (including social media) makes this drive for more and more much worse. Not only are we asked to “keep up with the Kardashians” but we are also asked, in subtle and not so subtle ways, to keep up with everyone else too (including all of our friends on Facebook). The bombardment of messages that television, movies, the internet, and most recently social media provide too often manipulates what a successful life looks like in ways that might not be productive or helpful for us.
Social comparison theory states that we tend to make judgments about ourselves and our lives by reviewing both upward and downward comparisons. In other words, we observe the lives of others and then make judgments about ourselves based on those comparisons. Since people tend to present their best self on social media we compare our lives to the very best of others and often feel pretty lousy in the process. So, we get a close look into the best projected lives of others via media and then conclude that our lives are either successful or not.
So, social comparison theory suggests that if you focus on upward comparisons (e.g., the lives of the rich and famous) you will certainly feel pretty bad about your life. However, if you focus on the lives of those with downward comparisons you’ll feel pretty good. This is one, of several, reasons why people feel so good after participating in volunteer and charitable activities among those who struggle and why they often feel lousy after focusing on the lives of the stars (or the lives of their friends who project that they are stars).
You really do need to be very careful and thoughtful about your exposure to media (including social media) if you want to manage your social comparisons, happiness, and notions of success in life.
While imagining yourself on your deathbed, what might you consider a successful life? Might it be money, power, prestige, fame, satisfying relationships, family, leisure, a meaningful life, or helping others? If you can be thoughtful about your response to this important question you may be able to be more focused and centered in a productive way as you are bombarded with troubling messages from media.
So, what do you think?