the dangers of social media: comparison at its sneakiest


I can’t begin this until I say that this is not an accusatory post: I am as guilty as anyone. Recently, I’ve had a convicting revelation about social media and the way I use it, and I think it needs sharing. To any toes I step on: sorry, not sorry.


As I’m sure many web-surfers out there have noticed, a particular craze is currently consuming social media. This fad, known as the #100happydays challenge, is an interesting idea. One signs up for the challenge, promising to post a picture or social nugget of something that makes him or her happy–every day for 100 consecutive days. There is no tangible reward if you successfully complete the challenge, and to many it seems pointless. After seeing the hashtag dominate my Instagram feed for a couple of weeks, I decided to sign up for the challenge. I realized, very quickly, what the point of the challenge was. After the 2nd day, I didn’t just notice one ‘Insta-worthy’ thing that put a smile on my face. It seemed as if, suddenly, I noticed the beauty in everything I encountered. I continued with the challenge for a little over a week, but then I had a startling thought:

Why should social media be related to my happiness?

I then stopped the #100happydays challenge, not because I didn’t see the point, but because I really saw the point.

We put all of our happiest moments on social media to be memorialized, remembered, and envied by all who see them. Our social media profiles become this conglomeration of pictures, statuses, and ‘life events’ we deem important. In essence, we become this conglomeration. What you post online becomes definitive of who you are to those who see it. The wonderfully deceptive thing about social media is this: your life can appear exactly the way you want it, to the entire world, whether or not it truly is the way you’ve depicted. You can be whoever you’d like to be. You can ‘live’ whatever life you want.

Exhilarating, no?

The thought IS exhilarating! Who wouldn’t want to make her life look exciting and loaded with adventure? Who wouldn’t want to brag about his promotion? Who wouldn’t want his or her life to be envied? As far as I can tell, none of us.

“Wait, let me Instagram this!” and “That’s definitely getting tweeted later!” and “This is SO Facebook worthy!” are all phrases we hear and say on a regular basis in the modern world. While I don’t doubt the innocence of some, I feel that the overriding reason for our obsession with documenting our lives on social media is this: we are consumed by the need to compare ourselves to and, simultaneously, be approved by others. We crave the drama that other people provide. We complain about ‘nosey’ people who constantly run their mouths and stick their noses in our business, but when they don’t like our most recent relationship status update, we are offended. We wonder, “What can I post next to get more ‘likes’?” In short, we live for the attention of other people, whether we can admit it or not.

It’s no longer enough to go on a fun outdoor exploration with your friends; now it’s necessary to go, post a picture with an overdone, ‘artsy’ filter on it, and top it off with an inspirational quote to make everyone envy the adventure you just took. No longer can we meet a nice person and start dating them with the counsel of our close friends and family; now, a relationship status change is necessary. Everyone posts their ‘congratulations’ and ‘I’ve waited for this for so long’s…but that’s exactly what we want, isn’t it? A little pat on the back from 85 of our closest acquaintances. It makes us really confident that we’ve picked the right one. One of my personal favorites: posting a selfie with a Bible verse as the caption–so that everyone gets a glimpse of not only your beautiful face, but also your beautiful heart.

I always love to look at my friends’ profile pictures on Facebook. As creepy as it sounds, it’s a blast, and sometimes quite an entertaining adventure. The coolest thing about someone’s album of profile pictures is that they are a collection of a person’s prized poses. These are the pictures in which this person thinks she looks her best. These are the photos that make him or her feel beautiful, skinny, funny, interesting, sexy, alluring…you name it. It’s unifying among every social media user. It’s a fantastic feeling when people comment on your newest profile picture. As the number of ‘likes’ begins to climb, so does our ‘self-confidence’. It’s sad, really. We judge the importance of an event by how many favorites or retweets a tweet about it gets. We weigh the significance of an Instagram post by the amount of likes it gets. We determine our beauty and worth by the amount of ‘GORGEOUS’ comments it receives. To whom are we comparing ourselves?

Other people get more likes than we do. Other people have more followers. They post about breathtaking adventures, while we are stuck behind a desk in an office or a classroom. They post photos with their perfectly put-together families, when ours are in chaos. They post pictures of themselves and a group of friends having drinks, when we feel lonely and struggle with alcohol addiction. They tweet something thought-provoking and spiritual, but we’re wondering why we can’t hear God’s voice anymore. Our lives just aren’t as great as theirs.

People, this goes much deeper than an Instagram challenge.

We have got to stop ‘living a life’ on social media as if our real lives do not exist anymore. News flash: they’re not going anywhere. You can hide behind your Facebook statuses all you’d like. It won’t change the fact that you drudge through every day just waiting on the status-worthy moment that keeps you looking put-together on your profile. Tweeting negative, sarcastic comments about everything and everyone will never be therapeutic enough to get rid of your envy and bitterness. Uploading a selfie and receiving praise will never, ever, make you believe you are beautiful. In fact, you can post a hundred selfies a day and get a million likes, but if you have a self-esteem problem, it will still be there long after you log off. You can post a picture every time you spend time with your friends, but if you struggle with loneliness, no amount of ‘Jealous!’ comments will make you feel better.

Social media can be an excellent networking tool. It’s great for marketing and for reconnecting with friends. It can be a lot of fun, but it can also consume our lives and our thoughts. Social media is so much more influential than we realize. Am I saying we should all rally together and delete our social media accounts? Absolutely not. I am, however, saying that we (myself included) need to reevaluate our reasons for the things we post. Do we, like the #100happydays challenge suggests, post things that truly make us happy, regardless of the approval or disapproval of others? Or, do we post to make ourselves happy through the approval of others? Oftentimes, I will not post something on the internet because I don’t want to cheapen its memory through social media. We don’t need the opinions of others constantly cluttering our treasured memories. Nothing is private anymore. Nothing is personal. I want to live the same life on social media as I do in the real world, whether it’s ‘average’ or not. No matter what I post online, my real life does not change because of it. My real life changes when I put my phone and my computer away and go out there and live it.

I don’t think I ‘lost’ the #100happydays challenge. I definitely won. Yeah, it stirred up something in me that has taken me weeks to articulate, but it has been totally worth it. I am filled with joy now that I can give my undivided attention to the little things in my life that make it so full. While I’m sure I will still have issues I’ll resort to social media to numb at times, I know my joy is not found online.

“For You have made me rejoice, Lordby what You have done; I will shout for joy because of the works of Your hands. How magnificent are Your works, Lordhow profound Your thoughts!” Psalm 92:4-5 (HCSB)

We are starving for relationship, community, love, and acceptance. We were made to crave these things. Why do we insist on the shallow interactions through social media to fulfill us when, truthfully, they never will? Those interactions are shallow and unsatisfying. Thankfully, there is fulfillment in Jesus. I am so glad my eternal approval doesn’t come from my set of Facebook friends.

 “When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears.” –Zadie Smith

“We’re high on the adrenaline of feeling, even though we know it’s fleeting and evanescence. And we’re getting worse — checking texts and emails and Facebook every five minutes, always searching for that next hit of feeling, that next morsel of approval.”
–Deborah Meyler, The Bookstore

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