Ever heard the phrase ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’?
In years gone by, people would ‘keep up’ and measure the success of their friends and neighbours by their homes, the car they drove and the clothes that they wore. At social events there would of course be the usual chat about careers, possibly salaries, promotions, holidays, the achievements of children etc. But such status comparisons were scheduled, relatively infrequent and contained.
These days, thanks to social media and the internet as a whole, status comparisons are a daily event, hourly if, like many people, you are online a lot. If you are having a bad day, or week or if you feel that your life is drifting off piste in one way or another, a regular scroll through your social feed can be very disheartening.
On instagram, everyone is eating the perfect breakfast (eggs benedict anyone?), their children are running through a woodland look like something from a Mini Boden shoot, with the perfect afternoon light falling on their faces, the dinner party table they have set for tonight looks like a professional flat lay photograph.
Over on Facebook? Everyone’s on a glamorous holiday or weekend break, or on a snug and smug date night with their beloved, or drinking prosecco with the girls. People are ‘super proud’ of their kid’s latest achievements or humble bragging about some other great thing that’s happened in their lives.
Twitter? Twitter is crammed full with busy, productive people, hustling their businesses, winning new clients, being shortlisted for awards (more humble bragging) and just being so joyful at having so much to cram into the busy, busy day!
So we sit there, and we scroll, and without even knowing it, we are comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. We sit in our own current feelings (fear, insecurity, boredom, loneliness, frustration) and we ruthlessly pin those mental pictures of our own lives up against those we are seeing on social media. And we find ourselves very much wanting.
Even if we have had an OK day by our standards, maybe a good day, a scroll through the lives of others can really deflate us.
But what if none of this is true?
That work colleague you see on Facebook, wearing lipgloss and smiling with a gaggle of girlfriends over cocktails on a Saturday night? She’s masking her sadness with a martini because she and her partner aren’t communicating and haven’t been for months and she doesn’t know how to get things back to how they were. But cheers! Look happy for the camera!
That mummy blogger over on instagram, with her gorgeous children wrapped up in fluffy white towels on the beach with her #blessed #lovemykids #proudmama tags? She’s not going to tell you that she screamed at them both for no good reason just two hours earlier because she is exhausted from night time wakings when her 4 year old pees the bed and the only way she’s getting through this day is with coffee at one end and wine at the other. Oh and that’s the 8th take of that photo and yes, she styled the background of the shot with picnic rug and wicker basket before taking her ‘snap’.
Your business pal on twitter, so busy, so successful, working her admin on a Sunday because her working week was so stuffed full of ‘busy busy, clients, clients’? She’s struggling. She didn’t make anywhere near her sales target that week or even that month. A new competitor is taking its toll and she’s no idea what to do next.
The truth is this; we have no idea what is going on in the lives of others.
Hopefully our close friends and family we have a better handle on and we know the truth of their lives – but not always and certainly not all of it.
But all those old school chums, ex work colleagues, University pals last seen at graduation and friends of friends and people we shared a hen weekend with 8 years ago and business acquaintances and all those random strangers we follow on twitter and instagram?
Social media gives us all the opportunity to broadcast, live stream if we want to, chunks and snippets of our lives. It also gives us the opportunity to show our best side, the best photo we took, to validate ourselves and to create a highly edited version of our lives, a version that we feel happy for people to see.
We have all done this and do it.
I am as guilty as anyone of selecting the best photo, or only reporting on the day’s best bits, neglecting the parts where I yelled at my husband or burnt the toast or didn’t win the client. I try to ‘keep it real’ but honestly, I know I have got sucked into this curation and editing too. Whilst I 90% feel I have a great life, when people say ‘oh I wish I had your life’ which has happened on more than one occasion, I get a twinge of guilt as I know they don’t know the full picture.
And I notice friends doing it too, those who I know are having a rough time but are still instagramming and facebooking their joyful moments, carefully concealing the things keeping them awake at night.
And what about you? Do you do this too?
What we forget, even though at some level we are aware of it, is that everyone else we know is also creating better looking outsides. And so we are comparing our own lives with a careful edited and curated fantasy that doesn’t actually exist. We are taking our shitty day and standing it up against all of this… nonsense.
So what to do?
Well firstly, remind yourself, when you go online, that people’s outsides are not what they seem always, and don’t automatically compare how you are feeling on the inside with how people are presenting themselves to the outside world.
Secondly, you don’t have to take notice of everyone. Unfollow or hide people who you feel trigger feelings of insecurity or who might make you feel challenged in a certain area of your life. This doesn’t have to be forever and you don’t have to unfriend people (unless you fancy a good social media cull in which case go ahead!) just hide them from your feed for a while. When we were struggling to start a family, I hid people on Facebook who posted a lot of pictures of their bumps, newborns and babes. I did. I just couldn’t cope with it so I didn’t. If someone did this to me, I would totally understand.
Thirdly – work on your insides. I recommend a daily gratitude practice as a great way of connecting you with what is real, and great, in your own life. And trust me, the better you feel about your own life, the less likely you are to compare yourself to others, which is half the battle won. If you’d like some help with this, please download my gratitude journal when you join my mailing list.
Thanks for reading this and I’d love to hear what you think about this subject, so why not leave me a comment?