Never in our history have we been bombarded with so much of other people’s happiness. We see happiness on television, through our social media, and even have people called influencers who promise they can help us to be as happy as they are.
The key to true contentment in a world of manufactured happiness
We aren’t only exposed to these mediums when we decide to turn on the TV or see a billboard. They are now broadcast to our many devices which we turn to first thing in the morning, throughout the day and the last thing at night.
Due to social media the lines of what is real and manufactured are becoming harder and harder to distinguish. In the past we knew TV was for entertainment. These days, however, with the rise of social media it is hard to distinguish the real from the artificial. We see the smiling white pearly teeth of those we follow along with convenient product placements. We look at what our friends are up to. Many are enjoying spending time with their partners, families, pets, doing yoga poses on mountains, skydiving, and many other incredible things. But is this their reality and is this sustainable happiness?
These are people like you and me. These are their moments of happiness, or even manufactured photos to give the appearance of happiness. There seems such a driving force to show how successful and happy we are that we begin to believe it is the things we are wearing, the cars we are driving, the houses we are living in, and how attractive our partner is that make us happy. These things can bring moments of happiness, but as a society it seems we are becoming addicted to these moments because something else may be fundamentally missing.
Now for some realtalk: Life is not always happy. We strive for contentment, sure but must also recognize that there will be moments of happiness and moments of sadness. It is unrealistic to think that those we admire, follow and emulate on social media don’t have sadness. Everyone of us has moments of hardships, addiction and loss.
How often do you see social media users posting photos of a funeral, by a sick friend’s hospital bed, or while taking out the garbage? Is it common to see posts about when someone is dealing with anxiety and depression, navigating triggers, dealing with attachment trauma or struggling in their relationship? We have to remember that we only see what people want us to see. Remember the time a friend posted happy family photos right up to when they separated with their partner? Or do you recall when a friend later said they were depressed at a time when they were posting happy photos of themselves on Instagram?
Of course we will seek contentment and will experience moments of great happiness. We should also realize that we will have sadness. We shouldn’t run from these feelings but rather embrace them. How would we know happiness if we had it all the time and would it be as special as it is without the sadness to compare it to.
What brings contentment? Contentment comes from living by our values. We may all have different values and it is important to consider the ones that are most important to us. (see @the_valuesproject on Instragram for a helpful tool in finding your own). Choose the ones most important to you. Think about how you currently are living those values, and how you could live them more.
When you look at social media think about the underlying values that you are seeing. For example, if you see a photo of a happy couple, reflect on what makes that relationship special and what would make the relationship special for you. Things like commitment, dependability, and family may all be values that you want in your relationship.
Again, think about how you are living those things, and how you want to live them more. Think about the work you do or the job you have and whether they bring you contentment. Then examine what values are associated with it. Maybe you remain in the job because of the financial stability when it goes against your sense of purpose. If this is the case we have to weigh up these values and decide what is most important to us.
Many times when people start counselling they are unable to identify their values. This may involve one-on-one work, relationship counselling, couples therapy or even the newly emerging approaches involving psychedelics. In the end, even this is about your values as it means checking in with what your own inner compass feels the most drawn to.
In summary, noticing that you aren’t feeling happy is not a cause for alarm: It is a wakeup and a reminder that you are human. Stop comparing your off days to other people’s highlight reels, seek the humans who love you when you struggle most and make a commitment to have the best relationship with your own authentic values as possible. This is a marathon, not a sprint and we are here to be the fully real messy humans that we are.