The journalist in me has always loved the chase of a news story, whether good or bad news. But as a journalist who’s mostly been out of the game of reporting bad news for more than two years, and a human being, the bad stuff gets to me. I feel conflicted because I love the news, but sometimes, it’s too much. Whether international conflicts, murders, animals being abused, states strangling equal rights and selling our natural resources to the highest bidder, another friend or acquaintance with cancer, another innocent person killed at work or general negativity, I need a break. (You need a break from all of my negativity now too, right?) And this stuff is everywhere, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or the evening TV news.
I don’t remember all this bad stuff weighing on me years ago like it seems to these days, but a few years ago, I did nab a spot on Tumblr and name it My Happiness Haven. The goal was to just share something each day that made me happy. You know, an effort to drown out all the anger and sadness in the world with a little reminder of brightness. It didn’t take too long before I pretty much abandoned that effort as it seemed Tumblr was mostly a world for angsty teenagers and creeps. But lately, I’d been thinking about picking it back up.
About that time, I saw an ad for a year-old app called “Happier” on Facebook. Time included it as one of its best iPhone apps of 2013. It seemed like it was made for someone like me. According to the description in the App Store, “Happier is a fun social gratitude journal combined with a positive community!” (Does that exclamation point make you feel the happy?) What you do is post a picture or just write a post about something that makes you happy. Easy enough. Other users can say “Me too!” to your posts, they can comment, and they can let you know that your post made them smile. Happier urges users to “be inspired to keep track of the small happy moments in your day and feel awesome when they help someone smile.”
So I thought this all sounded great. MY PEOPLE! My positive people! I jumped in. It’s a beautiful, colorful app, and I especially loved that you could look through posts in your area (I could use more friends here in Colorado, you know). I just loved the general concept. You can even tell the app to send you reminders to stop for a moment and think about what’s made you smile today and share that. That is a wonderful thing, I think, and we could all use reminders like that. But here’s the thing: it’s still a social app. Just like with Facebook, Instagram and, to some extent, Twitter, I am sending something I think is awesome out into the world and waiting for a response. Yes, looking at my desk wall plastered with things that inspire me makes me happy, but will it make other people? Will it make them “smile”?
Happier cites research showing that focusing on the positive things in life makes people healthier and that happiness is, essentially, contagious. And I believe all that.
But there are also studies that show certain social media habits actually decrease happiness, as users mindlessly scroll through their feeds and become envious of others’ lives as they look at altered photos and posts written to reflect life in a certain way. And I believe that too.
Did you know there’s actually a thing called Social Media Anxiety Disorder? I had no idea until researching this piece. It’s not an actual clinical disorder (yet), but the term has been coined and there’s a good amount of research going on about this topic and generally what effect social media has on us. Depending on your source, SMAD is said to be categorized by symptoms like interrupting friends to tell them someone commented on something you posted, anxiety when pictures and posts aren’t made or tagged correctly, spending eight hours a day on social media, and wanting to take your phone everywhere with you.
I haven’t talked to anyone who would seriously say they have SMAD, but I do know people who were bothered because they thought they’d get way more likes on something than they did, or wondered what was taking someone so long to accept a friend request, and I’m right there with them!
My point of all this is that I feel some sort of anxiety (I guess you’d call it) and anticipation when I post something I think is excellent and feel validated when someone (anyone!) likes or comments on it. And, while I’m no doctor, I don’t think that’s necessarily always healthy. I love social media and am so fascinated by it and how it’s transforming our world and the way we communicate, but I am disturbed that when I have great food, or some super-wise epiphany, I instantly feel the need to share it on Facebook. It’s like, if it wasn’t posted on social media, did it really happen? Oftentimes, I stop myself, because I don’t like where the immediate urge to post is going.
So getting back to this Happier app. I believe that it does make people happy. I believe that people who, like me, are tired of the negative, enjoy a social media haven where no one is complaining about their crappy job or how busy their life is. But at the end of the day, it’s still another social app. It’s still another source of anxiety and maybe fleeting validation from your posts. And really, when will we say there is such a thing as having a presence on too many social media sites? I am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn (some out of professional necessity). I have had accounts on Vine, GetGlue, and now, Happier as well.
While I love the idea of sharing and spreading happiness (after all, it has been a cornerstone of my online bios for years and something to strive for in life), sometimes I think it’s best to keep a little something for yourself. Happier won’t work for me, because I don’t need to be even more attached to my phone and social media (and I feel that I personally post to Instagram for similar reasons that one would post to Happier), but it may work for you. And if you’re like me, and you do believe in the personal positive effects of gratitude, I offer a few old-school alternatives to (always) being social about your happiness that will also help you focus more on the gratitude.
Keep a gratitude journal. I got a small journal for my birthday. It was too little for my novels of thoughts, but the perfect size to write three things I’m grateful for each day. After about a week of doing this, I’m not sure it’s necessarily made me happier yet, but it has forced me to think more about what I am grateful for, and I thought I was grateful before. Do it in the morning to start your day off positively. I’ve been surprised with how I’ve delayed it sometimes because nothing specific immediately stands out to me. How terrible is that?!? All the more reason to do it.
Another idea is one I recently came across on Elephant Journal. Keep a jar with scrap pieces of paper nearby. Whenever something makes you smile, write that moment down and put it in the jar. At the end of a year, go through all those happy moments and relive them. Or, as the EJ post put it, “Keep them or burn them—decide in the moment. Whether you want to be able to savor these memories in the future or send them out into the universe is up to you and how you feel. Feel the goodness of the past year creep into your bones and heart.” What a beautiful way to remind yourself of happiness and gratitude from the whole year and to be flooded with those memories at the end.
So it’s up to you to decide how much of your happiness needs to be shared on social media and whether there can be too much posting of it, but I encourage you to think about why you share what you share in that space. Don’t do it to brag. And whether it’s taking in a beautiful mountain view, and maybe taking a photo that only your actual friends will see (so old school, right?), writing down those moments for yourself, or sharing them with the world, the important thing is to just wholly take them in and take some time to be in awe and grateful.