Columns & Blogs

Keep it real on social media to keep envy at bay

Recently, I was talking with a therapist and asked what a person should do when he or she is overcome with bitterness about a less-than-stellar life. The answer was simply: “Stay off Facebook.”

That’s not bad advice. When it comes to getting down in the dumps about how unsuccessful and/or unfulfilled your life is at the moment, going on Facebook isn’t the proper pick-me-up. The same goes for Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat or any other social media app that shows people living it up and making moves while you’re at home, in your drawers, watching it all unfold on your smartphone.

I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve been known to get envious of people once in a while, especially when I’m online. I know I’m guilty of being jealous of colleagues and contemporaries in journalism who have landed jobs and book deals while I’m still freelancing. Not too long ago, I was on Twitter and saw a photo a fellow writer took of his spacious living room, with his beautiful wife nestled on the couch. This guy and I both started out as music scribes back in Texas. Now he’s a staff writer at a popular website and has a popular, published book under his belt (with another one on the way). On the one hand, I’m happy for his success. On the other hand, I can’t help hating his guts!

Getting all sour grapes-y about what we see on social media isn’t uncommon and isn’t new. In 2013, Reuters reported that a joint study by two German universities, Berlin’s Humboldt University and Darmstadt’s Technical University, discovered a lot of heavy envy regarding Facebook. Researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, feelings often triggered by vacation photos and work successes.

“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook, with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” Humboldt researcher Hanna Krasnova told Reuters.

It may also leave them without a lot of money in the bank. Reuters reported on another study, which found that frequent Facebook users tend to have higher levels of credit-card debt and lower credit scores. This is what happens when not only you can see how well your friends are doing on a daily basis, but you can also see how celebs like Beyonce and Kim Kardashian are doing. There are too many Joneses to keep up with these days.

Of course, it would help if people on social media kept an evenly balanced profile of themselves, dispensing not only the good but the bad as well. Last month, USA Today columnist Steven Petrow wrote about writer Kate Carroll de Gutes, who launched “The Authenticity Experiment” on her blog and Facebook page. She posted raw, honest dispatches about herself for 30 days straight. Carroll de Gutes wrote how people love posting good news, cat videos and whatnot, but “we don’t really talk about the dark.”

Perhaps if more people revealed their flaws, problems and insecurities, there wouldn’t be such a thing as “lifestyle envy” or “Instagram envy” or whatever you want to call it. Not too long ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post where he laid out how he and his wife Priscilla Chan had suffered multiple miscarriages. (“The pain is so intense and the grief is real,” he wrote.) The Daily Mail reported that the couple received “an extraordinary outpouring of emotions from people across the world, many of whom have detailed their own heartbreaking experiences of losing a pregnancy.” Even a Facebook friend of mine came clean about a recent suicide attempt, inciting many others (including myself) to respond, letting that person know we would all like to see him continue living.

So, while it’s fun to show people you’re living the glamorous life on social media, it’s been proven time and time again that people respond even more positively when you just keep it real.