Seeking Validation Online Doesn’t Bring Real Happiness
Five ways to control your connections.
Posted February 12, 2016 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
In today’s interconnected world, social media is a major channel of communication and an important part of daily life. There are so many positive aspects — not only does social media allow us to easily connect with loved ones and catch up with friends, it also provides entertainment, breaking news, and hottest trends from virtually anywhere around the globe.
At the same time, there is something a bit unsettling about the way social media networks are constantly trying to rate their users. How many people “liked” your post today?
Pressure to be socially accepted and celebrated can be too much to handle, and can adversely affect the self-esteem of many social media users. A situation about a real person bears this out: Essena O’Neill, a young Australian social media maven, has recently announced that she was quitting social media because it had caused her to “constantly compare herself to others” and “measure her self-worth by the number of likes” her posts would get.
Essena admitted that she had always wanted to be popular on social media. She closely monitored other social media celebrities and tried to emulate them in order to build her own following. By posting glamorous shots of herself and her seemingly perfect life, she managed to reach her “goals."
Yet, despite having hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube and Instagram, the teenage star confessed in one of her YouTube videos that instead of bringing her happiness, social media actually “consumed” her. And so, unable to cope with the pressure of having to continuously display her perfect life and perfect self, she shut down some of her media channels, while restructuring others to reflect her true self.
One thing that this young Australian is a hundred percent right about — “social media is not real life”. Essena’s story brings into focus something that you may tend to forget: What you see isn’t always what you get.
Essena’s situation is just a snapshot of what happens to many people. For many, social media life is inseparable from real life: You may seek social connectivity, acceptance and approval, and can do so more often than when face to face. When out to dinner talking to a friend, you probably don’t tell a story and then ask them to “like it” or “rate it!”
People with high self-confidence are less negatively affected by social media than are those whose self-confidence is lacking. By constantly comparing themselves to apparently perfect images online, social media users whose self-confidence is lacking can become more anxious or depressed over what others seem to have and they don’t. That nagging feeling of not being able to measure up will only lead to less self-confidence and an erosion of self-worth. Each log-in can chip away just a bit more of any good feeling a person might have had.
If you find you are impacted negatively by social media — “Why isn’t MY life like that?” — it might be time to reevaluate what it means to you and how you want to utilize it. It’s not necessary to opt-out entirely, but take control of managing it. If you aren’t bothered by others’ perfect pictures, good for you! Just remember, like magazine pictures, it’s only a snapshot of someone’s life.
- Unplug. Yes, you can do without it sometimes! In fact, social media is addictive — don’t let yourself get overly drawn in. If you notice that social media adversely affects your mood, sleep or ability to function, you might need a reality check and possibly a break from it. Choose to go online only at a specific time of the day and don’t go to “just quickly check if anything new happened” every five minutes. Don’t spend more than 20 minutes per session, as the more time you spend online, the more fixated on social networking you become. Remember that your social media life is only a small part of your real life and not your whole world.
- Refrain from comparisons. Comparing yourself to others is an exercise in futility. While it may seem that everybody else’s life is just fabulous while you are the only one struggling through it, deep down you know that isn’t true. Everyone looks smart, happy, fit and living it up judging from the posts that they make to their social networks, but isn’t it exactly the point of social media sharing? Some brave souls will talk about their struggles, but mostly it’s a medium that allows people to show the rest of the world the best of what’s happening. You’re often looking at a tiny snippet of their reality without any context. You can’t — and mustn’t — compare everything that you are to what is essentially a collection of carefully selected self-advertisements.
- Revise your self-talk. It’s not the public approval but how you feel about yourself that really determines the quality of your life. If you say negative things about yourself, soon enough you will come to believe in them. However, the opposite holds true as well. Be kind in your self-judgment: While thinking of how you can improve, don’t forget to give yourself credit for what you have achieved and what you are capable of.
- Invest in things that make you feel good about yourself. Don’t let social media rule your life and decide how happy and healthy you are. Don’t beat yourself up if your new upload didn’t get the response you were hoping for; if you were happy with it, that is all that matters. You are much more than your online persona — remember, embrace and celebrate that.
- Rediscover face-to-face communication. While social media is a great communication channel, it shouldn’t substitute for real-life interactions and relationships. Yes, interpersonal communication requires more effort, but at the same time, it has greater value than your online connections. At the end of the day, it is not your digital device or social network ratings that offer the most comfort to you when you are sad. It’s nice to have a lot of online people rooting for you but when you can actually talk to someone, or sit with them, they often give you strength and support that’s very different from what you can get in a simple post.