19 April 2016

Why Does This Cheer People Up?

{Gratuitous gorgeous photo of me, to fit with the theme of social media highlights in this post. Plus, I'm awesome. Ask yourself, would you feel happier if this photo were captioned with some sort of confession of sad things that contradict the smiling face? Something along the lines of "Got yelled at by a client today," "Only smiling on the outside," or "The Face of Insecurity." If you answered yes, you might be an evil super villain. Read on.}


It's a refrain heard again and again, particularly online:

"Don't worry when your friends and family portray beautiful and awesome lives online. You're only seeing an edited version of their lives, a curated collection of moments that they want to share. They definitely have lots of hard times and struggles and bad hair days and temper tantrums--so feel better! Their life isn't nearly as perfect or awesome as you might think it is, so you ought to be grateful for your life because their lives have a lot of problems too."

Seriously. I read "encouragements" like that...and I'm horrified. I cannot comprehend a mindset that actually feels BETTER when reminded that our dear friends and family and social media acquaintances are struggling silently with a plethora of the maladies that affect mankind.

Insert Here: 
{Pinteresty Images reading: "Attention: No One Has a Perfect Life" and "Instagram is Not Real Life" and the tired Behind the Scenes/Highlight Reel Quote. I'm not actually using those images because...I don't want to use images I don't own. Also, I don't wan readers to skim and misunderstand this post...because that happens to me a lot.}

Does anyone see that it's plain weird to be happier because of the revelation that other people are suffering?

This is a selfish, selfish point of view. I understand that it comes from an idea of solidarity, of encouragement in the fact that nobody is alone in the battles they face...but something about it all just still seems a little bit wrong. Why should we feel glad to know that others have terrible things happen to them, too? It's good to remember that other people have tough times, and to stand with them and build them up when they open up to you about those tough times...but it's not exactly okay to use other people's hardships as a reason to 'take heart.'

This is not an article about others being authentic or inauthentic online. This is check to our own heart conditions--have we really allowed ourselves to become so small-minded that we feel better when we know that life is hard for other people too? Something about that just doesn't seem right.

Maybe it's the big sister in me. I don't want any of my little siblings to face the harder things I've had to face...even though I know I can't protect them from everything. I don't want them to cry. I want the very best for them. I want them to have happy marriages and healthy children, and I don't want them to be overpowered by debt. I don't want them to struggle with mental illness or insecurities or just the hard times of life. I know bad stuff happens regardless of my wants--but I will refuse to, in the name of solidarity or whatever, be encouraged by the knowledge that other people cry too.

Why can't we just be happy when we see happy selfies? Why can we only be happy if we secretly think that behind each happy selfie is probably a ton of makeup and a great filter and a fight with the husband and an undisclosed health scare and a messy house? What about that would make us happy? Why can we only be content when we remember that everyone experiences the ugly side of life?

There is tough stuff going on in my life that I don't talk about online. I do not say that to encourage you. I say that to depress you. Because I am awesome and my life is awesome and the bad stuff is just plain bad, and shouldn't encourage anyone. We should not feel glad to know that other people go through heartbreak. That sounds like the kind of thing an evil super villain would do. But even with the is awesome. And the joy and spunk you see online are real. I have no intention of encouraging anyone through my own failings and sadness--because it is not encouraging to know that everyone, myself included, gets a taste of the ugly side of life.

Me, I'm going to take a stand. I'll be happy for the reason that everybody gets at least some chance to see the beautiful side of life. In this world those chances are terribly unequal and unfair in their distribution, but the beauty is there all the same. I'll celebrate every piece of joy and beauty that befall anyone in my circles. Yes, all lives are imperfect, and senseless tragedy abounds, but that doesn't make me happy. I'm looking forward to a life where perfect will be possible, but in the meantime I'm going to celebrate the glimpses of perfection rather than take heart because of the abundance of imperfection.
Tayrina said...

Encouraging post! Makes me think about enjoying the little things in life. Blessings

Bethany Carson said...

Amen! This is awesome, Rachel! Thanks for sharing!

Hayden said...

I've had many of the same feelings on this subject! Thanks for sharing!

Bekah Loves Blog said...


Emily said...

This is so encouraging Rachel! I agree completely!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robyn B said...

i so agree!!! thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

Unknown said...

(I deleted my first comment to add on to it with this one...)
I think this attitude is a reaction to the insecurity, jealousy and isolation that people feel today because of technology and social media. Some people really don't get out much anymore or have deep relationships and sometimes the only side they see of people is the happy "perfect" side. When you're isolated like that I think you might feel relieved to see that you're not alone in your struggles. Relieved... but certainly not glad, I hope. I think this is a natural reaction for some people... perhaps not the correct reaction, though.

I read a lot of blogs. I like that your blog is happy, funny and smart. But I read other kinds of blogs, too. I just read one about a lady who is mourning the death of her puppy, and it made me cry... I like that blog too. I think life is beautiful because of the good and bad times, although you might not be able to see that when you're in the middle of the bad times.

AnneMarie said...

Rachel, I really appreciate you sharing this perspective! As I read what you say and think about it, it DOES seem weird that we can't seem to be genuinely happy for the beauty and good fortune that others experience. I think the whole "Well, remember that this person's life is probably a disaster even if her picture looks great" thing is partially done to avoid jealousy, but that doesn't mean that it's good to spread this kind of mentality around, either. Why sit around and talk about the possible horrendous things that other people may be going through, instead of actually being happy for other people? Because you're right-there is something flawed when we see a beautiful picture that another person posts, and our immediate reaction isn't "Wow, that's beautiful and awesome and I'm happy for him/her!" but is instead, "Well, that's great and all, but let's remember that there's probably a huge pile of messy laundry just off-camera."

The Lady Okie said...

(Sorry for this giant comment!)
I agree and disagree with you. I totally see your point and agree that a "glad" or happy reaction to hearing about someone's suffering or hard times is very selfish and small-minded. We should rejoice with others in their success and joy for sure, and it's not the right attitude to be encouraged thinking about what is going on behind the photo. I would hope a smile is not masking some great pain.
But I agree with Joann's point above. I think for many it is a relief. Like when I go over to my friend's house and there are clothes piled everywhere and I think, "Man, I'm glad it's not just me!" It's not that I'm happy she doesn't have time to clean.
It's so easy to feel isolated in our grief or hard time when we only see beautiful photos online that it can be a comfort to know that others struggle to. However, it is our own responsibility to not look to others for comfort and maybe a little less time on social media would be a good thing for a lot of people!
The Bible talks about going through trials so that we can encourage others in their trials, and if we only talk about happy, positive things (online or elsewhere), we won't know where others are struggling and we won't be able to encourage them in that.
From the feedback I've gotten from sharing my struggles with going back to work and talking about my feelings of jealousy toward those who can stay at home, it seems like my sharing that has been an encouragement to people who are in a similar situation more than if I just talked about how great everything was going.
All that said, I appreciate you sharing, your blog, and your positivity and think you write really well about things like this! Interesting to read and makes me think :)

The Peculiar Treasure said...

I was going to comment, but The Lady Okie basically said everything I was going to say.
I love your heart in this, and I agree with you that it is very sad that we ever are happy about someone else's struggles. But I don't think it's wrong to be relieved when we realize that we aren't alone. It's encouraging to me to know that being human and making mistakes, or not having it all together, doesn't make me a lesser human. haha.

Suzanne said...

Ditto to what Lady Okie wrote.

Interesting post.


Samantha said...

This is a very interesting perspective that I never really thought about. I'm one of those people that shares mostly the positive side of my life online, because I believe my struggles are my own. I don't want to bring other people down. Could I be a little more real online? Probably, and I just might now.

Brittany Putman said...

Life is hard and it definitely isn't what we see on the internet. Even in real life everyone tries to hide their struggles. I try to remember that and always be supportive of others whether it is in pain or joy.

Rachel said...

I also read blogs that are more about the serious and hard side of life, because they are just as real. But like you, my reaction is to cry at the sad stories. And sometimes beauty can come out of hard times and other times--injustice wins, and nothing is fair.

Carolann Chambers said...

I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago and this post really impacted me. I like to be happy that people are out celebrating a birthday, or having ice cream, or doing whatever it is that they felt like photographing and sharing. I think that we should look for beauty everywhere we can find it. I am happy for people when they are having good times, and I try to support them when they post about something hard going on in their lives.

Tori Sly said...

While I do understand your perspective on this, I would have to lean more towards the perspective of The Lady Okie, etc. As someone who struggles heavily with depression and insecurity, it's easy for me to subconsciously compare my life to others around me and feel inadequate. I can look at someone else's beautiful social media account of gorgeous pictures and fun experiences, only to feel as if I'm failing at life because perhaps I'm not as happy as they seem to be, or I don't have as many unique and interesting experiences, and by all accounts it seems like my life is not as valuable or important as theirs. When I see posts saying "Instagram isn't real life" and whatnot, I'm reminded to let go of that self-loathing, self-pitying mindset, because these people with accounts overflowing with gorgeous images and experiences are just as human as I am, and that even though it looks different, my life is just as good and worth just as much as theirs. It's not about taking comfort or enjoyment in someone else's struggles. Rather, it's about recognizing that it's not worth worrying over our own perceived inadequacy and how we measure up to those around us.

Patty said...

I like what you said about checking your heart on this! And I agree with you even in pain/heart ache life still is beautiful and amazing.
Whatever is going on for you friend, I'll be praying for you xoxoxo

Rach said...

I hear you. I wasn't really sure what it was about all the "Instagram isn't real life" posts and such that bothered me, but I think this is a lot of it. And maybe it sounds silly, but it never occurred to me to think that how a person seems online is all of who they are. I mean, I know that there is a lot that happens in my life that doesn't make the internet (either because it's super personal or because it's not something I find important enough to remember). I know that I have perfectly mundane and normal days that are sometimes filled with little annoyances so I just assume everyone else does as well. I never have quite understood the comparison trap that a lot of people talk about. And I feel like it's hard to say that because it makes me sound "better than". I'm honestly even considering backspacing this whole comment, but it's the truth. I think a lot of it is just personality. Or maybe even the place I am in life right now. Anyway, I've read the comments on this post and I see where other people are coming from too. So I think all in all, the important thing is to check your own heart (like you said).

By the way, so sorry to hear about the tough stuff you are going through right now. If you ever need to talk, I'm here for you!

Tayler Morrell said...

I agree. I feel that I am authentic in my blog...I talked about a trial of faith, my anxiety and post-partum depression, and other things. The reason I do isn't to get sympathy, but because I want to write out my feelings andm aybe help someone else who is going through the same thing.

Jenny Evans said...

This is such a nice sentiment. I'm the kind of person who usually does have captions beneath our smiling photos like "a toddler was screaming at our feet in the portrait studio while this was taken" but more because I think the chaos is funny.

Brita Long said...

I don't want other people to lose a parent at a young age because it sucks.

I don't want other people to be diagnosed with Crohn's Disease or any chronic illness because it also sucks.

I talk about it because that's who I am, but I'm certainly not uplifted by the thought that other people might be dealing with similar misery. I do have a pretty amazing life in the grand scheme of things, but I wouldn't wish devastating grief or incurable illness on anyone.