Saying Goodbye To FOMO and Envy
I had only been up for an hour, and thanks to Instagram, I’d already violated the 10th commandment three times.
I coveted my friend’s trip of a lifetime (that she seems to take every six months); then a neighbor’s custom-made chicken coop and backyard garden; and finally, an acquaintance’s incredible New Year’s Eve party with hand-lettered place cards, stunning heirloom dishes and hundreds of dollars worth of fresh flowers.
Moya Sarner wrote, “We live in the age of envy. Career envy, kitchen envy, children envy, food envy, upper arm envy, holiday envy. You name it, there’s an envy for it.” All thanks to social media. While it’s true that Instagram, Facebook and other platforms have the capacity to help us connect with our friends and family, they also have the potential to provoke envy, trigger comparison and ultimately divert our energy from what brings true life and lasting satisfaction.
What’s to be done about this? Though it might be a wise choice for some of us, few will delete our social media accounts or trade in our state-of-the-art devices for an ancient flip phone. (If you’re thinking about that possibility, give this article a read.) There are less drastic, more realistic alternatives but we first have to walk in enough self-awareness to admit there’s a problem.
Recognizing when FOMO (fear of missing out) and envy are sucking us into their vortex (or domain, as it were) is essential. FOMO and envy often foment dissatisfaction and uncharitable comparison. When I find myself entertaining thoughts such as, Why can’t I go on vacations like that? Why doesn’t my husband build me a chicken coop? Or, Why can’t I get it together and host an elaborate dinner party? I know I’m on the verge of a full-blown envy attack.
Regardless of how rich and wonderful our lives actually are, someone else will always have a bigger, better version. (And if we’re currently unhappy with our lives, envy’s pull can feel irresistible.) Part of the danger of social media is that it flaunts that bigger, better version all day, every day. When we can honestly admit that we feel worse about ourselves and our lives after snacking on social media, that should be akin to the yellow warning light appearing on the car’s dashboard. Depression and loneliness are other symptoms of social media overload.
How to Recalibrate:
When using social media, engage instead of snacking. In a recent article in Duke University’s The Chronicle, Julia O’Brien, research project manager with the Center for Advanced Hindsight (an oxymoron if ever there was one), encourages social media users to avoid passively scrolling through social media without meaningfully engaging with others. Rather than simply adding emojis, take a moment to write a thoughtful response.
Another way to avoid the deleterious effects of social media is to present the whole of who you are, including your failures. Remember that “When [we’re] browsing our newsfeed, observing everyone else’s happy outward posed image of themselves … we end up getting a one-sided view of other people’s lives.” As a result, continues O’Brien, “[We] don't have anything that resembles a normal human interaction.”
Because the calculus for popularity is now inextricably linked to how many likes a post garners and how many (virtual) friends we have, we mistakenly believe that we need to curate our lives and present the best possible version to the world. While a stunning vacation photo might result in more likes, it’s our willingness to be needy, vulnerable and imperfect that allows others to know and connect with us. That said, do be discerning when you post. Your loved ones — or employers — should not discover anything shocking or disturbing about you on social media.
"While a stunning vacation photo might result in more likes, it’s our willingness to be needy, vulnerable, and imperfect that allows others to know and connect with us."
It’s also important to stay in your own story. We can easily fall into comparison and envy when we forget how God has been and is currently at work in our own lives. When I was in my twenties, I had the opportunity to travel across the globe as a photojournalist. My long-term goal was to work with The National Geographic. But then as I got closer to the dream and became friends with some of the staff photographers, I discovered their lives were not nearly as glamorous as it appeared.
At that time, the divorce rate for staffers was stratospheric (near 90%) mostly because they spent approximately six months a year on the road. It’s a lonely and exhausting profession. When I find myself pining away for those earlier days, I have to choose gratitude for the life I have, which includes a 28-year marriage, three amazing children and a deep connection to my local church. I doubt any of that would have been possible if I had chosen to pursue a career with National Geographic.
"It’s also important to stay in your own story. We can easily fall into comparison and envy when we forget how God has been and is currently at work in our own lives."
We all need to be mindful of how social media affects us. Spending time online is not morally wrong, but it might make it difficult for us to be known, connect with others, and enjoy the life we have. If that’s the case, we should adjust so that the media serves us rather than us serving the media.