Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If your holiday sucks, I hope you’ll consider letting us know on social media

I hope you have a genuinely lovely holiday, filled with warmth, love, and joy. But if your holiday sucks, I hope you’ll consider letting us know on social media.

The ability of Facebook, et al. to make everybody miserable is well-documented. People present the best versions of themselves on social media, downplaying or completely omitting the negative aspects of their lives and exaggerating the positive aspects. When others compare their lives, warts and all, to the ostensibly perfect lives they see in their News Feed, it compels them to put on a similar façade on their own Facebook page—and the process repeats, assuring a cycle of perpetually stolen joy. It’s not a problem social media created, but, as this short film by the Higton Bros. demonstrates, social media has certainly amplified it.


This is particularly true during the holidays. Posts about perfect families and perfect Christmas trees and perfect gifts are everywhere, and, for the most part, it’s easy enough to contextualize or ignore. But if you’re already feeling down, no matter how often you remind yourself that it’s madness to compare the real you to the fictionalized them, it can be impossibly difficult not to take it all as more evidence of how inadequate your life is.

And while we can all roll our eyes whenever people post stuff that’s obviously hyperbolic (“This is the worst Christmas in the history of humanity!”) or intentionally vague (“I will never forgive you—you know who you are!”) or complainbragging (“Ugh, my new Maserati is such an ugly color”), there’s something to be said about simple, matter-of-fact statements about a holiday that isn’t going so great: This Christmas is a little rough; I’m kind of lonely this time of year; I wish I could’ve afforded better gifts for my family this year.

After all, shared joy is nice enough, but it can be facile and fleeting. It doesn’t require looking beyond oneself, and it doesn’t necessarily engage any empathic impulses. The connections forged from shared joy are often tenuous, which isn’t surprising—I’m doing great and you’re doing great! is pretty hard to sustain, and those connections can break as soon as someone starts feeling less than great.

Shared misery, on the other hand, is a much more powerful force. It requires two people to get out of their own heads, even for just a moment, and extend a bit of kindness to each other. It’s a much more daunting task because it’s hard enough to get a handle on the contours of your own sadness, let alone figure someone else’s out (to misquote Tolstoy badly, happy people are all alike; every unhappy person is unhappy in their own way). But the result of doing so—or at least trying—is a connection that’s predicated on the strength of understanding and selflessness.

That’s kind of heady stuff for social media, so I’ll just say this: People can post whatever they want to post on social media, and they can do so for whatever reason. When people brag about their holidays, I don’t doubt that many of their loved ones will be happy to hear that they’re happy—but because it’s generally easier to be happy for others when you yourself are happy, those loved ones are probably doing okay. On the other hand, for someone who feels alone and isolated, it’d probably mean a lot more to read that they’re not the only ones feeling that way.

In other words, posting about the things that are great will likely make happy people somewhat happier. But posting about the things that aren’t so great could very well make someone feel less lonely and miserable.

I’m not suggesting that everything you post on social media needs to be an act of altruism designed to make everybody feel better. I am, however, saying that you should feel totally free to break the cycle of projecting perfection, if not for your own sake then for the sake of someone who might really need to see it broken.

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