Social media is like our mind and mindfulness is the key to making it a friend

My family and I recently spent a beautiful summer evening on the lakefront in a nearby town. We had a picnic and took a stroll along the water, enjoying the warm weather and lovely sunset. I took some social media worthy shots. They depicted a happy family along with colourful scenic views. But they didn’t show the whole picture.

What they didn’t show was the unhappiness that came towards the end of the evening as the boys were getting tired and their mom was trying to eke out every last bit of relaxation and enjoyment on the last few days of her summer vacation. I love walks, nature and quiet evenings, however my thirteen and eleven year old boys don’t appreciate it quite as much. They’d much rather be playing video games with their friends or working on YouTube projects. While I don’t want to detract from the family bonding time and good parts of the day, the reality is there were tears, frustration and unhappiness towards the end of the evening as our interests and energy levels were at odds.

I’m fairly sure we are a typical family, going through natural challenges as we navigate our different interests and try to find balance. Oftentimes we don’t get the balance just right. In this case, we stayed up too late. I’ve learned over the years that tiredness is a big culprit of negative emotions that are hard to control.

My pictures didn’t capture this part of the evening.

The Problem with Social Media

And herein lies the dilemma. If I post the beautiful pictures I took with smiling happy faces on social media, that’s all people see. And when folks are scrolling through and seeing perfect picture after perfect picture, it can leave unrealistic impressions of what life is like for everyone (except them, of course). It’s not the whole picture. It never is. The fact is there is so much more behind social media posts. They are chosen photos from tiny moments, usually specifically created moments, from an extremely larger picture. It’s not a complete picture at all.

That’s why as both a social media creator and consumer, mindfulness can be the key to keeping it real and not causing unrealistic perceptions and thus unhappiness.

Social Media is like our Mind

Just like our mind, social media can be a friend at times but also a foe. Our mind is a useful tool as it can help us solve problems, learn new things, set goals and make decisions. However, if left to its own devices our mind can also be overactive and cause much unhappiness due to its negativity bias, as I discuss in Good Morning, Life! Social media is the same. I’m sure you’ve experienced both the positive and negative aspects.

The Good

Social media can be a wonderful way to stay connected to family and friends, sharing updates of important milestones and life events. It can be a way to comfort and support others through hard times. When my father-in-law passed away during the first few months of the pandemic and we couldn’t have a funeral, the well wishes and care expressed via social media was very comforting and meaningful to me and my family. However, there is another side.

The Bad

Based on social media giants’ sneaky algorithms and designs used to keep us on our devices along with our human tendency to slip into autopilot and let our emotions take over, social media can also have negative impacts on our mental health and happiness.

The more mindful we are when using social media the more we can use it as a helpful tool to meet goals and stay in touch with friends and family, rather than letting it control us, our day and our emotions. To help each other we can practice being mindful as both content creators and as consumers.

Mindful Media Creators

There can be many reasons for posting on social media, it could be sharing good news, not-so-good news, and inspiring pictures. We might want to update others on projects we are working on and skills we are acquiring, perhaps to keep us motivated. Maybe we’d like to create awareness for an important cause or initiative, or possibly sell a product or service. There are also educational posts to inform and teach about a topic. Whatever the purpose, it’s a good idea to be clear about why you are posting. Ask these key questions before you post to ensure you are purposeful with your content:

What is the purpose for the post?

How do you want others to feel after they see the post? (Do you want them to feel good, informed, inspired?)

Is it authentic? (How close is it to reflecting reality? E.g. Is it creating an overly positive or overly negative view of reality? If so, why?)

What action do you want your audience to take, if any?

If your answers tell you that it may be primarily ego driven and the main goal is to create a nice image of yourself and boast or even have people feel envious or jealous, you may be inadvertently contributing to the negative impacts of social media. While we can’t control how others perceive our posts, we can be clear on our purposes for posting. The more genuine the better.

Mindful Media Consumers

As a user of social media I can be mindful of how I’m interpreting and digesting what I come across on social media. I can use a few of elements from the Happiness Formula from Good Morning, Life! to help me.

Purpose and Intention

First, before going on my device I can be clear on my purpose and intention for using it.

What is my aim for going on social media right now? (Is it to check on a friend, look up a restaurant recommendation, catch up on news and gossip? Or am I just bored?).

How long do I want to spend on it right now?

Let’s face it, a lot of time can be spent mindlessly on social media consumption without contributing to our goals in life. Following my last blog on Finding Time with Mindfulness, if I can be mindful and purposeful about the time I spend on social media I will make great gains because this can be a huge time waster these days.

Presence and mindful awareness

Mindfulness before and during the time I’m using social media is important. I aim to be aware of the emotions that arise for me as I read posts. And if there is jealousy, envy, FOMO (fear of missing out), I am aware of it. I remind myself that this is only a snapshot and not the real picture. Sometimes I imagine what the whole picture looks like including how the camera person got the picture. While the picture may look awesome, it can be a funny scene imagining the picture being taken behind the scenes. Is it a selfie on a funny angle? I love when people post their behind the scenes footage! It makes it feel authentic and I can still enjoy and appreciate the final product as well.

Let Go and Love

Let go of the need to judge and compare ourselves to others. Instead, view posts with love, compassion and appreciation of what others are putting out there and sharing. If it’s a friend’s fit body that we are tempted to compare our less-fit physique with, appreciate the hard work and time they’ve spent working out and the happiness they must feel in meeting their goals. Perhaps there is some inspiration there. Or if it’s a beautifully manicured lawn and garden, rather than thinking about our own weedy landscape, we can appreciate the skill of their green thumb. Comparing ourselves to others is a trap that leads to unhappiness. We are on our own path, so let’s own it. Instead we can focus on appreciating what our friends are sharing with us via social media.

Beneath the surface of social media

Just like my example, where I love some of the shots I got that quiet summer night, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s be clear, social media does not tell the whole story.

And that’s why, if we’re looking for connection, there’s nothing better than reaching out and having real conversations with friends and loved ones to understand how they’re truly doing, underneath the surface. Because for the most part social media is just skimming the surface.

Below are some of my surface shots from a beautiful but real night with my family by the lake. I hope you can look at them and enjoy while knowing there is much more behind the scenes.

  Presence. Purpose. Intention. Balance. Let Go. Love.

Mindfulness can help social media be a friend

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