Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Don’t use social media as a barometer for other people’s happiness

This April 9, 2012, file photo shows Instagram being demonstrated on an iPhone in New York.
This April 9, 2012, file photo shows Instagram being demonstrated on an iPhone in New York. AP

DEAR KELLY: I feel like my life is boring. Everyone else has better and more exciting lives than me. When I’m home on a Saturday night, I see that everyone is out with friends, going places and doing fun things. People think I have a lot of friends, and that’s only because I have no drama with anyone. But when it comes to asking me to hang out do something fun, it never happens.

Part of me thinks I need to do something really bad like get wasted or do something crazy so people would think I’m fun and start asking me to do things. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared that my parents will freak and I’ll get in loads of trouble and I’m not sure if it’s worth it, but then I’ll finally have something exciting to post that people will think makes me more interesting and fun.

Why do I always feel bad when I see how great other people’s lives are, and why does everyone seem to have so much more fun than I do? How do I not have a boring life but not get into big trouble?


DEAR RILES: It is hard to keep your eyes on your own path and not look at over at other people’s and compare lives. Inevitably other people seem so much happier and their lives seem so much better, especially if you use social media as your meter for measurement. An important question to ask yourself is: Is their life so much better, or are they just posting about it and making it all seem better?

We all have days when everyone else seems to be getting by without a care in the world. As we struggle with the ups and downs of a normal life, friends or even strangers whose profile is the only thing you know about them appear more content and joyful than we are. Others, it appears, love life, and troubles and cares seem to skip over their perfect lives. Your generation has to just hit one button on your phone and you are bombarded with the joys of everyone’s self-edited lives. People post how lucky and carefree they are, how socially busy they are or how amazing it is to get a new car or go on a fabulous trip to Europe. And the rest of us wonder: “What’s wrong with me?”

A Stanford researcher named Alex Jordan has done extensive work on social media and how it affects our emotions. His studies showed that people consistently underestimated the amount of negative experiences and overestimated the positive feelings they believed their peers had. This unrealistic perception causes us to put on a happy front, especially on social media, as we believe it’s the norm. But it’s this happy front that fools us into thinking we are the only one with problems. What Jordan found is that we make ourselves unhappy by unfairly measuring ourselves against the fake façade of others. We fail to see the unhappiness or challenges others face because people hide them and don’t publicly display their struggles. Instead of seeing ourselves or our challenges as normal, we see ourselves as boring or unattractive to others.

No one has a stress-free, pain-free, frustration-free, fight-free, lonely-free life.

Stop doing the “compare and despair” thing to yourself. The cost of comparison is high. When we compare ourselves, it only magnifies our own insecurities and leaves us feeling discouraged. You are comparing your life to the seemingly perfect lives of others. Yet, I bet if you looked closer or got to know some of the people you are comparing yourself to, you would see that their lives were no different or better than yours. You are letting a picture or post cause disparity about your own life. You are basing your unhappiness on the self-created image others want to display. You are doing yourself a huge disservice and setting yourself for a lifetime of unhappiness if you compare your life to others and let it bring you down. The more energy you waste comparing your life to others and trying to be like them, the less energy you have to be who you are.

If social media is bringing you down, then why not take a break? Delete your accounts for now. Or just will yourself not to look at them. Focus on doing what makes you happy. Tune into yourself and appreciate your life. Reach out to friends rather than sit and wait for them to reach out to you. Don’t feel pressured into becoming someone you are not just because you think it will bring you more invitations or a bigger social circle.

Stop giving your power away to things outside yourself. Be comfortable with yourself, the person you are becoming and the journey you are walking. If you continue to stay on social media, be aware that the images people present are not always the truth.

Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email krichardson@sacbee.com.