At the end of the day, when you step away from your computer and phone, which posts from the day's romp across the social media landscape stick with you?
We all scroll through a wide variety of posts every time we refresh our social news feeds. The information that streams by ranges from upbeat to heart wrenching, enlightening to maddening. All facets of human life and emotion are laid bare daily by each and every one of us as we share our stories and the stories that move us. But which do you remember?
And, more importantly, which stories are YOU contributing to the mix?
What makes a post resonate? If you stop and think about this, you'll more than likely agree that it is authenticity that causes us to stop and pause, to click all the way through and read beyond the headline, to like, to comment, to remember as we drift off to sleep.
Our individual output is one part of an equation that multiplies exponentially, becoming collective input so expansive it's surprising we can register as much as we do.
Our posts have impact, and it's important to recognize that. Authenticity is wonderful, but if you limit your authenticity to only one type of sharing, or share an idealized version of the truth, hiding behind the mantle of authenticity, you can alienate yourself from the very people with whom you wish to connect. Let's explore this further:
In our daily lives, when we are our best selves, most strive for kindness and compassion -- we are mindful of these qualities and make it a choice to express them. Why don't we also do this with our social presences online?
Sometimes we do, of course, but so much of the time we fall victim to the opposite of those impulses. Anonymity is a contributing factor to mindless posts that dehumanize both poster and reader. Also, it's so easy to do; with a single click any thought can be immediately out there. And there is often very little thought behind the action of clicking something to share.
But shouldn't there be? Shouldn't we -- especially on the Internet, a place so unforgiving and permanent -- always be taking stock of our interactions, and only sharing that which resonates with us and would be likely to resonate with others? Shouldn't we be mindful of the impact our output can have on others?
On any path to enlightenment, balance is an integral part of the core teachings -- from religious texts to self-help programs -- because balance is hugely important in creating gratitude, which is one of many places mindfulness begins.
Imagine our lives if all we did was smile and laugh; if every day was perfect. There are those who joke, "What would we do with our lives if we had nothing to complain about?" There's something to that. The sunshine is much more appreciated after a little rain, isn't it?
So our lives will always contain strife and hardship and difficulties, and we will always share them online, because we have become a culture of output and digital expression. But let's not forget balance. Avoid being dour and negative about life, and find a way to remain hopeful and optimistic even during challenging times.
At the same time, we must be mindful of bragging; of appearing so impossibly well-adjusted that we leave those who are struggling feeling like they will never be able to attain the perfect happiness we seem to have. And we must all remember to take a little bit of responsibility for the feelings of insecurity those types of posts elicit in others -- even beyond our circle of friends. And we must watch for those feelings in ourselves when others' posts leave us feeling our lives are wanting.
The Mindful Mindset
"Mindfulness is the essence of engagement," according to Harvard University's Dr. Ellen Langer, who has been described as the "mother of mindfulness" according to her bio. "And it's energy-begetting, not energy-consuming."
The idea is to be in each moment, not consumed by past mistakes or glories, or by future dreams of perfect happiness; to be truly present and allow each moment to be experienced fully as it is.
The word engagement is a perfect choice here, as it's a frequent buzzword associated with social media marketing. But most of the time our "engagement" is simply interaction. Mindless clicking that doesn't penetrate.
Our lives online are certainly happening moment by moment, even second by second. But so often we aren't actually experiencing them. Have you ever "liked" something, for example a friend announcing their engagement (to use the word yet another way), and then months later seeing posted wedding photos and thinking, "When did they get engaged?" Our minds are not with us in these moments of interaction. We are not truly engaged.
Part of the problem is that we expend far too much effort comparing our behind-the-scenes reality with everyone else's public highlight reels, posted in envy-inspiring terms, meant to catch our eye and make us wish we had that person's life. What we forget is that social media posts are like snapshots: Here's a happy photo of us at that wonderful event. We don't usually take pictures of daily chores, fights with spouses, and children throwing tantrums. That happy snapshot doesn't represent an entire life. But for some reason, we take internalize these snapshots and wonder why our own lives are not as seemingly perfect.
"Comparisons are odious," said John Lydgate as early as 1440. The phrase was later co-opted by John Donne and others because it remains true. Comparing yourself to others is a negative behavior.
Just look at all the young people who struggle with self-esteem issues, compounded by living their lives so much online. The pendulum swings between the extremes of posting self-harm images and 140-character cries for help, or bragging with attention-seeking selfies,
"Look at me, aren't I fabulous? Please tell me how fabulous I am so I can validate my existence!"
Of course, the "fabulous" is all an illusion that is impossible to live up to, and so the complaint posts riddled with "FML," etc. begin and the cycle continues.
This is learned behavior, of course. All of us, adults and young people alike, perpetuate this vicious cycle of mindlessness every time we post something similar, setting the example. Where do you fit into this cycle? And when will you embrace mindfulness to help break it? May I suggest you take that first step in true authenticity by posting a simple short comment about something that didn't go well in your week this week?