An exercise in Optimism 


The problem

Facebook and Instagram, and various other forms of social media, are amazing. They let you keep in touch with friends and relatives around the world, organise events and share photos, you can even make a living from them.

However I’m pretty sure they are absolutely terrible for your mental health.

Remember at school when you’d feel like the only one in the class that didn’t get it? Everyone else seemed to find the maths/language/Beyblade so damned easy and you were the one dunce kid who for some reason couldn’t figure it out. Felt pretty terrible right?

Now imagine that all day every day about everything. 

But that’s what we’re doing to each other on social media. Everyday we post the ‘best of’ moments from our day – a really nice sunset, the bigger-than-expected slice of cake at the insanely hipster cafe, the latest personal record for your 10k run, and it’s probably meant in the most positive way. People that care about you will be psyched to see you did good, right?

That works great for your Mum, who receives endless joy from the successes and adventures of her marvelous offspring, and has precisely nine friends on Facebook, but for the rest of the world it’s different. They are sat there, receiving constant updates from everyone they know about how f***ing brilliant their life is. This might be all well and good when it’s going well for them, but if they’re having a tough time, and aren’t seeing anyone else around them struggling, it’s going to have a profound impact on their wellbeing. We need to see each others failures and difficult patches as well as our successes. We have to be exposed to one another in a deeper sense, and understand the difficulties that they’ve perservered through, so that we can genuinely be pleased when things are going well for them. Otherwise that weird sense of “I get it, your three year old is a genius” resentment starts to build and you start feeling angry whenever that impossibly beautiful selfie on top of some ridiculously white mountain slides ominously onto your news feed.

How to fix it

Some people quit social media. A lot of those that do report improved mood, productivity, all the buzzwords that we like to hear, and that’s great, but I think for the majority it’s pretty difficult to totally detach from all social media, especially since it’s so useful for so many things. I’m one of these people, so I decided to do a couple of things:

  • Cut down on the mindless trawling through people’s profiles
  • Follow more sciencey/technological pages so I receive actually useful news
  • Compare me to me, and only me
  • Start thinking about the little things in my own life, and just practice being grateful for them (super basic mindfulness)

I found that not only did I stop having that self-resentment of ‘why isn’t my life like that‘ whenever Steve put his latest laser-paragliding-zombie-adventure album up, and that ‘oh come on literally noone looks like that‘ when the six-inches-of-foundation-and-mile-long-eyelash selfies sprouted onto my feed on Friday nights, but I was genuinely happy for my friends and family whenever stuff was going well for them, because I wasn’t comparing myself to other people all the time. I would pit myself against my previous self, and if I was more productive/more knowledgeable/fitter/better at cooking since I last checked, then all was good. Everyone else could do what they liked. That suited me just fine.

An exercise in optimism

Try this. Describe an object that you own or an activity that you do in as basic terms as you can, to see just how awesome it really is. You might start to feel a little better about the life you previously thought was so dull.

Some examples:

  • Smartphone
    • you pay (£30, whatever you pay) a month for this thing that fits in your pocket, and it gives you access to ALL of human knowledge and development from forever, whenever you want, you just have to tap its little face. And it plays music. All the music in the world. And you can contact someone ANYWHERE in the world within seconds, and you can watch your favourite sports team compete on the other side of the world, RIGHT NOW. How insanely awesome is that!?
      • “so THAT’s how they make ball bearings…”
  • Car
    • you have this metal box on wheels, that you pour molten liquid dinosaur bones into, and it makes them explode. As a result you can drive at seventy miles an hour – a speed evolution could never have hoped to prepare you for – so you can visit your nan, whom it would have taken you three weeks to visit if you walked.
      • “it even has a flipping radio, incase somehow, at this insane speed,  you manage to get bored!”
  • Dog
    • This fluffy, long-toothed animal, that could quite happily kill you if it wanted, has decided you are in charge of its entire life. Not only that, it loves the s*** out of you for doing so, even when you accidently stand on its foot, and it will never get bored as long as you keep throwing that ball. It doesn’t ever complain, it worries about you when you’re sick or absent, and all it wants in life is to make you happy. Oh and it feels awesome to stroke.
      • “you know how much you have to pay to get that from a human?”
  • Your morning coffee
    • Some person, thousands of years ago, discovered that this particular plant grows magic beans that block adenosine receptors, and turn your brain onto ‘function’ mode. Oh and  it also tastes great. Oh and it’s full of antioxidants that fight cancer and dementia*. Oh and it makes you better at sports. You don’t even have to fight anyone or steal anything to get hold of it, you can literally buy it from like half the shops on the street. They even have specific people to MAKE IT FOR YOU. There are hundreds of different types that have been flown to you from all around the world, just so you can try them and all you have to do is hand over some coins or paper that you can’t do much else with anyway.
      • “2.95 for a latte? That’s bull***”

Try it next time you think things aren’t going so well, and see if you feel better!

*we think

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