Many say that we are living in a consumerist culture. I believe this is wrong—or at least one side of the coin. I believe we are, above all else, a COMPARISON culture.
We measure, we liken, we contrast, we mold our entire lives around comparison. For many of us, our lives are a series of strategic moves to look better, to do more, to be more, to get more things, to be with more people, to see more places, to be more interesting – all broadcasted live on our beloved Facebook pages, Twitter streams, Instagram walls, and Snapchat apps.
Our lives are controlled by comparison. And above all else, our self-perceptions are controlled by comparison, giving social media the power to knight us as kings or queens or dub us as lonely, boring losers.
Don’t believe me? Just spend 5 minutes on any form of social media. That should quell your doubts.
Social Media Isn’t ALL Bad . . . But it is Very Toxic
My intention isn’t to demonize social media, nor is it to declare every form of social networking as the spawn of Satan—that would be silly. Social media, like anything, has its golden highlights. It connects us with others, helps us to share, open up to the world, and also helps us to receive support from others in times of need. In fact, in a 2010 study, the average social media user is said to have more social ties, and is half as likely to be socially isolated as non-social media users.
That being said, social media also has its dark side. According to many recent studies, the use of Social Media is said to significantly increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression, often serving as a catalyst for negative feelings such as jealousy and envy, while contributing to low self-esteem.
This is not surprising at all, and below we’ll explore why.
Are Your Experiencing Smiling Depression?
We are more apt to feel depressed by the perpetually smiling individual than the one who is honestly sad. If we admit our depression openly and freely, those around us get from it an experience of freedom rather than the depression itself. –Rollo May
One of the most intriguing phenomenon’s that marks our age of comparison is something known as smiling depression. Essentially, smiling depression is a type of unhappiness that is masked with a veneer of happiness (a smile), and is often accompanied with self-denial and avoidance of one’s feelings.
Anyone in life can suffer from smiling depression (think of comedians such as Robin Williams, Louis C. K., Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Hicks who mask/ed their unhappiness with humor)—but users of social media in particular cop the brunt.
In a day and age where we are constantly comparing our bodies, our jobs, our friends, our skills, our lives and our worth with others, it is no wonder that we are so miserable. In an age where our lives are punctuated with cyber “milestones” and highlighted by shares, likes, and comments it is no wonder that we hide our misery in our pursuit to “look better” and “be better” than others. To be a shiny person with a happy, perfect, shiny life, you have to look like one. Acknowledging how truly empty, lost, and purposeless you feel is not only NOT an option, but it doesn’t look good as a status update or selfie . . . K?
How to Recover From Smiling Depression
Smiling depression is like a shadow, hiding in the nooks and crannies of our lives sometimes so subtly that we don’t even notice. If you’re experiencing this often imperceptible form of depression you will feel:
- Repressed, “heavy,” or stuffy.
- A niggling sense of unease, unhappiness or dissatisfaction with your life.
- A feeling that “something isn’t quite right.”
- Resentment directed towards others and yourself.
- A feeling that something “isn’t quite right.”
- Anxiety and tension.
- Fatigue and irritability.
- A sense of dishonesty or inauthenticity (from putting on a happy façade).
Sometimes all of these symptoms will be apparent in your life, other times, only a few of them will be obvious. In any case, smiling depression is very common in our comparison culture. I’ve experienced this subtle form of depression many times before, and as I’ve personally discovered, it is very persistent and aggressive, especially if you frequent social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram on a daily basis.
Here is what I’ve learnt:
1. Limit the time you spend reading other people’s posts.
Be mindful of how much time you spend scrolling through streams or home pages. Try to limit the time you spend reading other people’s posts, or completely avoid doing this all together. Remember why you signed up in the first place (often it is to connect with friends and family members). Stick to this objective ferociously.
2. Put a leash on your inner snoop.
We all have inner “snoops,” and many of us are intrigued with the lives of others—this is just a natural part of being human. Social media allows us to investigate other people and “check up” on them whenever we like, making it irresistible to log into our accounts every day. Keep in mind that letting your inner snoop run wild is detrimental to your well-being in the long term, especially when you get into the habit of comparing yourself with others. Try to limit your snoops to “every now and then” (certainly not every day!).
3. Shorten your use of social media to 1 hour a day.
Unless you have a business that needs constant marketing, have a long-distance relationship or family member to keep in contact with, the use of social media should ideally be kept to a minimum. Simply put, the more hours you spend every day in such an environment, the more likely you are to exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem. Besides, there are many other things you can do with your time.
4. Explore why you contribute to social media.
Be mindful of the reasons behind your posts/pictures. Ask yourself, “Am I posting this picture/writing this status update to seek validation from others?”. In other words, are you posting merely to receive many likes, comments, or shares? Are you posting in order to gain attention or to feel better about yourself? If so, try to go on a social media diet for a week and post nothing at all. See how you feel. Chances are you will feel a lot happier when the need to constantly validate yourself is removed from your life.
5. Purge unnecessary social media accounts.
Ask yourself, “Is this website/application contributing to my life in a meaningful way?”. One of the best ways of overcoming smiling depression is by purging unnecessary forms of social media from your life. For example, you might need Facebook to stay in touch with a distant aunt or cousin, but you may have no need or purpose for an Instagram account. Assess what forms of social media are necessary for you and which ones aren’t. This is one of the best ways to cultivate more peace of mind in your life—not to mention productivity.
6. Ask, “Do I have low self-esteem?”.
Honestly assess yourself. Do you have a healthy self-esteem or a toxic one that is dependent on other people and how much importance or value they give to you? Are you happy with who you are regardless of what other people say, or are you crushed by the opinions of others? Does receiving only a few likes or shares embarrass you? If so, you’re probably suffering from low self-esteem. But don’t worry, you can solve this by cultivating self-love.
We live in a comparison culture; one that often contributes to the subtle but toxic experience of smiling depression. While social media isn’t all that bad, it does tend to contribute towards our unhappiness—especially when we get into the habit of constantly comparing ourselves with others.
You are the architect of your existence. Don’t let the number of friends or “likes” another person has get you down. These have fleeting value.