Social media has created a world in which everyone seems ecstatic apart from us. Is there any style for people to curb their rancour?
One night about five years ago, just before bed, I find a tweet from a friend announcing how delighted he was to have been shortlisted for a journalism awarding. I felt my stomach lurch and my head spin, my teeth clench and my chest tighten. I did not sleep until the morning.
Another five years or so before that, when I was at university, I was scrolling through the Facebook photos of someone on my course whom I vaguely knew. As I clicked on the pictures of her out clubbing with friends, drunkenly chuckling, I felt my mood sink so quickly I had to sit back in my chair. I seemed to stop breathing.
I have thought about why these memories still haunt me from time to time – why they have not been forgotten along with most other day-to-day interactions I have had on social media- and I think it is because, in my 32 years, those are the most powerful and painful moments of resentment I have experienced. I had not even entered that journalism rivalry, and I have never once been clubbing and enjoyed it, but as I read that tweet and as I scrolled through those photographs, I so desperately wanted what those people had that it left me as winded as if I had been punched in the stomach.
We live in the age of envy. Career envy, kitchen resentment, children envy, food bitternes, upper arm envy, holiday jealousy. You name it, there’s an resentment for it. Human beings have always felt what Aristotle defined in the fourth century BC as ache at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have”– though it would be another thousand years before it would make it on to Pope Gregory’s list of the sevendeadlysins.
But with the advent of social media, says Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who studies the impact of Facebook on our wellbeing,” envy is being taken to an extreme “. We are constantly bombarded by” Photoshopped lives”, he says,” and that exerts a toll on us the likes of which we have never experienced in the history of our species. And it is not particularly pleasant .”
Clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew says she is assuring more and more envy in her consulting room, from people who” can’t achieve the lifestyle they want but which they watch others have “. Our utilize of platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, she says, amplifies this deeply disturbing psychological discord.” I think what social media has done is induce everyone accessible for comparison ,” she explains.” In the past, people might have just envied their neighbours, but now we can comparison ourselves with everyone throughout the world .” Windy Dryden, one of the UK’s resulting practitioners of cognitive behavioural therapy, calls this “comparisonitis”.
And those comparisons are now much less realistic, Andrew continues:” We all know that images is to be able to filtered, that people are presenting the very best take on their own lives .” We carry our bitternes amplification device around in our pockets, we sleep with it next to our pillows, and it seduces us 24 hours a day, the moment we wake up, even if it is the middle of the night. Andrew has observed among her patients that knowing they are looking at an edited version of reality, the awareness that #nofilter is a deceitful hashtag, is no defence against the emotional force-out of jealousy.” What I notice is that most of us can intellectualise what we assure on social media platforms- we know that these images and narrations that are presented aren’t real, we can talk about it and rationalise it- but on an emotional level, it’s still pushing buttons. If those images or narratives tap into what we aspire to, but what we don’t have, then it becomes very powerful .”
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