Social media can be an endless parade of reminders that other people are doing things you want to but aren’t, or can’t. But it’s all a façade. Don’t let it get you down.
I love reading travel blogs, and travel-related Instagram and Facebook feeds. I have for a long time. Unlike guides like Frommer’s (which can be great, don’t get me wrong), they let me think about the world in an accessible, personal way. There’s usually an individual connection to the authors’ posts. After a while, though, they leave me feeling like my life is…well, crappy.
One of the drawbacks of reading about travel is exactly what’s great about it: It gives you insight into the exciting side of someone’s life. Look at this amazing thing that I did in a far away place that’s expensive to get to!
And since humans are prone to making negative upward social comparisons, spending a lot of time reading about other people’s lives makes it easy to stand ours against theirs and judge us as less-than. Reading travel blog after travel blog can bring me to feel not just like my life is boring, but like I’m boring; or, if I’m really down in the dumps, like there’s something wrong with me for not being more exciting.
It’s the Facebook effect. People’s Facebook feeds, like travel blogs and books, are often their highlights, their best side. How many profile pictures are of people on vacation, rather than washing dishes, staring blankly at screen, eating food that’s okay but not great, going to work – many, many moments of boredom in people’s lives?
Of course, when people do post about boredom, I think many of us tend to scroll on by. After all, why focus on what’s boring about other people’s lives when you’re already bored?
And because what we see of others on social media is what they present – which is often the highlight reel – for those of us outside looking in, we’re left wondering why their lives are all highlights and ours are all mundanity. It’s the availability heuristic plus upward social comparison – two psychological phenomena that can combine to leave people feeling kinda shitty.
For the record: I populate this blog with tales of my adventures, yes, but most of my life is pretty routine. These are the highlights, not the day-to-day.
In fact, I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to live my entire life like a travel blog, every day having to find something exciting to do. Part of the reason I’ve purposely decided to focus on places close by, and how I’ve learned to love my own back yard, is to show that what might look far-flung and exotic to some is close and accessible to others. After all, people around the world have told me they’d love to visit my back yard. So why can’t I enjoy what’s close to me with the same zeal that I would someone else’s back yard?
Nowadays when I see people posting or writing about the great time they had in Bali or Iceland I try just to be happy for them. I try to have a little vacation in my imagination along with them, and to remember that they also have bad days at the office, disappointments (sometimes bitter ones), weeks of boredom, that they sigh heavily looking at other people’s adventures over social media too.
That helps keep it from getting me down.