I’m a journalist, so I covered Fashion Week this year and posted an Instagram photo of myself at one of the runway shows. A friend from college who I haven’t seen in a while commented, “You have a cool life!”
When I saw her comment, I immediately thought about how that day I was exhausted from sleeping for only two hours the night before, famished because I was running from event to event and supremely stressed and burnt out. I thought to myself, “No, my life really isn’t that cool.”
Then it dawned on me that we’re ultimately actors on social media. We show the world what we’d like them to see, and our friends take it at face value. They assume that an edited photo of our best, most attractive moment is how we appear all the time. It make us feel like we’re missing out because what we’re doing isn’t as exciting as what a friend appears to be doing in their chic Instagram photo.
Looking at a stream of sepia-filtered photos of friends with drinks in their hands at a sexy lounge on a Friday night when you’re at home in your pajamas with no plans and, is likely to make anyone ask themselves, “Why wasn’t I invited?” Multiple studies in recent years confirm this.
It takes some mental rewiring to avoid these negative feelings, and to realize that you’re not really missing out because those edited and filtered photos are not reality, but rather a mere portrayal of life. It’s important to consider how we carefully craft our identities on social media.
Crafting the Perfect Photo, and What Motivates Us to Post It
It’s likely that your friends took multiple photos of themselves with varying angles and poses, possibly even with each other’s phones or cameras, until selecting the very best shot to post for the world to see.
Then, they scrolled through Instagram to find the best filter; one that makes them look tan, that makes their food look like it came from the glossy pages of a magazine, or that plays up sexy ambiance of the low-lit, sophisticated urban bar where they are. It’s possible that they edited the photo to make themselves appear thinner or make their hair and skin look flawless before posting it.
With the ubiquity of smart phones and social media and the range of easy-to-use photo editing apps available, anyone can take a magazine-quality photo. And our standards for viewing quality images are high. Coupled with a compelling caption, the most beautiful photos are the ones that get the most “likes,” an extrinsic reward that compels us to post high-quality photos. Posting photos on social media becomes a gamified rewards system; whether conscious or not, we’re competing with ourselves and each other to accumulate the most number of “likes.” So there’s a lot of incentive to post your finest Instagram captures—and it’s that carefully selected photo that can trigger envy and fear of missed opportunities at 10 o’clock on a Friday night.
Understanding How to Avoid Fear of Missing Out
It’s critical to remember you’re not behind the scenes. You’re not there with them to see all the work that went into posting that one glamour shot. You’re not there to see that your friends took that photo at the bar but ended up leaving early because it became too crowded and loud. And you’re not there with the friend who’s home just like you are and decided to post a photo that she took weeks ago because she’d like the world to think she’s having fun on Friday night instead of browsing Netflix from bed. Instead, all you see is that one perfect photo of your friends, and automatically, you assume that they’re having the time of their lives and intentionally excluded you from the fun.
Before you throw a pity party and assume your friends don’t want to see you because you’re no fun, take a step back. Realize that some nights we go out and have a really fun time. Some days we enjoy brunch with our best friends, go shopping or dine at the cool new restaurant in town. But some days it’s raining, we’re exhausted and don’t feel like talking to anyone or going out. Realize that on those days, when you’re having a really bad day or are sick or don’t look your best, you’re not going to take a photo and show yourself off to the world. Only a very, very small selection of life’s moments makes it on the social media. And those moments appear to be your absolute very best moments. What a person chooses to post online about themselves is merely a representation of how they’d like to be perceived. These photos and status updates don’t tell the whole story.