I have a furrowed brow today, and it’s not just because I’ve had to think through too many hoops and problems during my sunshine hours. I saw something today that reminded me of a scary idea — that we’re too scared to be unhappy, and we’re willing to lie about it, to feel good.
That could sound like an overzealous exaggeration and perhaps even an insult, except — if it is — I would be insulting myself too. (Spoiler — it’s not meant to be an insult).
I’ll illustrate it to you this way in a relatively typical example, that I’ve seen acted out, time and time again. The new mother, who has just given birth, enthuses over her child’s arrival with status updates like: “I love motherhood!” or the equally saccharine “I’m so in love with this little bundle of joy”. A stream of comments normally follows these little updates, from people who endorse her happiness. This is a good thing.
Except … she’s not being entirely truthful. She’s NOT posting about her extreme lack of sleep, the after-pain of birth (because, really, there’s a lot of that!) or the fact that she has no idea how to get the pooh that got stuck under her fingernails this morning, out. Why? Because she feels that sharing that would be negative, and she doesn’t want pity — she just wants to express herself.
It’s a basic example that reflects our communal and individual desires to have a good life, and social media plays into that, tempting us all into a weird type of competition where we’re subtly competing with our friends and peers to have the ultimate happy life.
When that happy mom DOES finally update and say “Having a really crap time. I need sleep and starting to think I’m doing this mothering thing wrong. The baby just cries all the time”. What normally happens then, is that a (smaller) bunch of helpful friends will comment, offer to help or offer advice. Note though, that a smaller bunch of people do it.
I’m guilty of it too — we all are. Today’s a perfect example, because it’s been a rough 48 hours in our life. But, if you look at my Facebook profile, life seems normal. That’s because — quite simply — I don’t want to actually share the negativity of my week so far. It feels, to me, like it would be futile. Yet, when I have happy things to report, it feels almost compulsory nowadays to post a sunny-side-up update, and wait for the endorsements that’ll come from friends with a simple “like” or comment.
It comes down to this — we experience a feeling of endorsement when we share a happy sentiment, and we experience a lesser feeling of being supported when we share the tough parts of life.
I’m making a deal with myself, though, and perhaps you will too. The next time a friend is brave enough to say “I’m having a crap day” online, I’m not just going to comment on it, or berate them for being vague. I’m going to ask them, and I’m going to check on them. Because, sometimes, we just need to say it, and other times, we really need a shoulder, but can’t be sure we’ll get it.
Image – AFP