Facebook regularly turns me into a jealous mess. Everyone in my network seems to have either a book deal, an award or an article in the New Yorker (I currently have none of those things). On Facebook, people seem to have the energy to shotgun beers on Friday night (I mostly shotgun the best seat on the couch). Someone's always staring at a breathtaking view or exercising their way to a "personal best."
I'm afraid of Instagram. It would likely reduce me to a puddle of tears.
Go on. Roll those eyes. But chances are you also suffer from my affliction. In one study, 62 per cent of people said social media "made them feel inadequate about their own life or achievements." In another, 20 per cent admitted the last time they felt jealous was on Zuckerberg's social network rather than in real life. Facebook envy is nothing to laugh about. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that those of us who scroll with spite are at higher risk of depression than those who simply use the platform to connect with friends or family. Though it hasn't been studied as thoroughly, Instagram's effects are probably worse. As a Slate article points out, the platform "distills the most crazy-making aspects of the Facebook experience."
Good news for shrinks. Bad news for the rest of us.
It's tempting to prescribe self-help to the envious. There is no shortage of five-step articles with tips such as "admit you're jealous" or "have a Facebook reality check" that will help "cure" your suffering. But that advice is misguided. The cure for the social media blues is honesty. We don't need to change the way we consume other people's profiles. We need to post more truthfully about ourselves.
True honesty on Facebook is hard to find. It's much more tempting to post about your baby's cute eating habits -- let me guess, food all over the mouth? -- or a wedding dress than it is your mental health problems and unrealized ambitions. For a lot of us, Facebook is a way to curate our lives so we seem like the people we want to be. These idealized versions of ourselves should enhance our egos, but instead, researchers have found they create an envy spiral: jealous friends airbrush their own lives in response and we all become competitive nightmares.
The irony is we'd be just as Facebook popular if we all stopped faking it. The human struggle connects us more than boasts.
When writer Anne Thériault posts on Facebook about her depression and anxiety, friends commiserate. A December status titled "Some Mental Health Stuff," in which she described panic attacks and how loved ones can help ("gently remind me that I am not a monster") had 104 likes and 69 comments. Many responded by divulging their own anguish. Journalist Mike Kessler recently shared the most "mundane and unattractive" parts of himself on Facebook for an article in Outside Magazine. He wrote that "my honesty was validated by a veritable popcorn machine of likes and hang-in-theres..." Reading about real-life pain is cathartic. That's why posts from the site Humans of New York (HONY), which features a photo and quote from people in the Big Apple, always go viral. A misty-eyed girl with the caption: "I'm new to my job, I'm new to the city, and I just had my first big cry" is more relatable than posts about your all-inclusive trip to Maui.
If we're more honest on Facebook, the attitude could easily spread. In its own study, the company found that when users see more positive or negative content in their feeds, their own posts change slightly to mimic that tone. Instead of an envy spiral, we can breed truth.
Of course you should still post about accomplishments or photos of yourself looking damn good. It's not Frownbook. But we should all pepper our successes with real talk. At my most honest, I've confessed my hate for winter or certain health foods. Big whoop. Usually I post the articles I read and write. My profile might have even made someone jealous or insecure. But that person should also know about my constant anxiety. That I can be really selfish. That I struggle with imposter syndrome. My Facebook friends should know that when I'm too lazy to clean the dishes, I put them in the fridge.
*This article previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen
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