My relationship with facebook is unsurprisingly complicated. I feel grateful to have an easy way to follow the joys in the lives of many people that I don’t have the time to talk to every day. I like having the ability to post a picture of my daughter and know that anyone who cares can see how she’s growing and changing. I feel excited about the ability to share my blog posts and ideas with a variety of different people with different and interesting perspectives. I feel a little uncomfortable posting or being tagged in personal photos knowing that I’m “friends” with some people I might not recognize on the street. I loathe the compulsive part of myself that wants to check it all of the time.
I also feel like it’s slowly and subtly skewing our expectations for a happy life. All of the pictures of delicious looking meals, flowers from significant others, happy babies, sleeping babies, and tropical vacations leave me wondering if we’ve sacrificed simple, intimate moments of joy for captured, filtered memories we can share with everyone. I long for one person to post a picture of an average looking frozen meal eaten by a mildly displeased and tired child on a cluttered table with an overgrown lawn in the background. I know I am the 12498093850 person to express this sentiment, and I also know that I am equally guilty of showing the best version of myself and my life to my 324 closest friends—it’s risky to be vulnerable in such a public space. All of this is to say that if you really want to make positive changes in your life, you could probably get a lot more accomplished by taking a break from facebook altogether.
So now that I’m done sharing my uneasiness with facebook in general, I wanted to offer up some facebook suggestions—questions and exercises that I’ve found useful to ask myself and explore with clients as we all get to know ourselves better.
Learn from Envy and then Free Yourself from It- Whose posts fill you with envy and what is it about their lives that cause that feeling? Use that envy to understand your own goals, wants, and priorities and see if you can work toward meeting some of those wants and needs. If there are people you envy for reasons that aren’t in anyway in your control or that aren’t motivating for you, unfollow their newsfeeds.
Express Gratitude- Are there people that you really appreciate who bring you joy on facebook, but you feel too inhibited to communicate that appreciation? Maybe you like their posts or quietly follow their newsfeed but you haven’t told them how small things they share are impacting you. Reach out to these people and let them know you’ve been enjoying their pictures, comments, links, etc. Everyone likes to be appreciated and studies show again and again that practicing gratitude can do a lot to improve your own mental health (Read Emmons and McCullough’s “The Psychology of Gratitude” to learn its wide reaching benefits).
Engage in Random Acts of Facebook Kindness- If you notice bullying on facebook or someone takes the risk to share that they aren’t having a great day, send them some positive thoughts. A plethora of studies have converged to show that practicing random acts of kindness help people who are depressed feel less depressed and make happy people happier (see Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009 for a review).
Honor your own Highs- When you’re done reading about everyone else’s high points, write down your own for the day. Studies have found that writing down in detail 3 things that went well each day for one week can increase happiness and reduce depressive symptoms for up to 6 months (Seligman and Steen, 2005). Whether you decide to post any of those highs on facebook is up to you.
Increase Intention- Combat the tendency for facebook to become a compulsive monster you have to constantly check in with the moment you feel bored, tense, or (insert uncomfortable feeling here). If you value using facebook, try to schedule a time each day (or week or month) that you want to engage with it. Allow yourself to really engage with other people, ideas, feelings, etc. during that time and then log off.