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I have a love/hate relationship with social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. On one hand, I love seeing updates from my friends and family. On the other hand, some of these pictures and updates are enhanced to portray a specific message rather than reality.
A few of my friends seem to travel the world all the time, sharing pictures from bullfights in Spain, snorkeling in Belize, and even relaxing on the white beaches of Tonga.
How Do They Do It?
I love looking at their photos. I find myself becoming entranced by their adventures, especially while I am sitting at home, cold, in the dead of winter. There have been hours wasted looking up flights to see how much it would cost to replicate these types of experiences. The costs usually agonize me. I can never seem to configure my budget in a way that would support spending so much money in this area.
Then I wonder to myself, where do these people get the money to fund these amazing vacations? For instance, one friend of mine doesn’t make much more than I do. I just don’t see how he is able to maintain the lifestyle that he does.
I was sorrowfully lamenting the fact that I couldn’t emulate all the fun that I see on my news feed to a friend of mine. My friend proceeded to share a personal story with me. A couple close to him was also spending big bucks traveling and just enjoying life. They too were posting tons of showy photos. What most people didn’t know was that this couple had been trying to have a baby for going on 5 years.
He then proceeded to tell me how sad they were in their struggle to have a child. They had suffered a couple miscarriages as well. On top of paying for IVF treatments, their doctor recommended that they try to keep stress levels low and “relax”.
The couple interpreted this recommendation as encouragement to take more relaxing vacations. However, that has depleted their savings, in addition to the expensive fertility treatments. While they are showing off these amazing vacation spots, in reality, they would rather be at home caring for a newborn baby.
A New Point of View
After that conversation, I came home with a new perspective. While that couple spends all their money on dinner dates, concerts, and traveling, they would rather be spending money on diapers, car seats, and 529 plans.
All that goes to show– things are not always as they appear. Most times, we do not know what is going on behind the scenes.
On top of that, when you look at everything posted on Facebook or Instagram, things start to merge. You could have a friend who took an amazing vacation somewhere, another that bought the latest tech gadget, and another that moved into a mansion. What you may not differentiate is that three different people did three different things. However, we put pressure on ourselves to replicate all of the experiences that we see.
A Comparison Effect
“A lot of our decisions are based primarily on this comparison effect,” says behavioral economist Fernando Zapatero of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles.
This comparison effect is powerful. And according to former President Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” As you can see, many of us are flung into a vicious cycle of comparing ourselves and then harboring negative emotions as a result.
If you haven’t read this article about 18-year-old model Essena O’Neill on the truth behind social media, you have to read it. She shares, “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated, self-absorbed judgement.”
While it may seem like everyone around you has their stuff in order, that may be a false reality. The grass isn’t always greener. But even if it is, that is okay too. If you are spending your money wisely and in areas that you value, you are on the right path. Instead of being jealous, I am learning to be content in my own situation. I also remind myself that I don’t always have the full story when I am taking in these images on social media. I am going to try to be a little more grateful for what I do have.