A challenge of the constant exposure to Social Media is envy. In the article below, the author discusses envy in relation to what we read online on a daily basis and offers a suggestion regarding how to recognize and not allow envy to overwhelm.
Is Envy Making You Sick
by Pamela Milam
The rise of social media makes it easier than ever to open a window onto the lives of others. We watch as our neighbors clink glasses and toast their anniversaries, witness a teenager who lives three states away show off his expensive new car, and scan through baby photos, job promotions, and life events of people we’ve never met. Someone with bragging rights about a recent windfall can reach far more people with news of accomplishments and good fortune than ever before.
Why, then, aren’t we all celebrating?
In a New York Times op-ed titled “The Downside of Inciting Envy,” Arthur Brooks discusses the rise of envy in American culture, focusing on the divide between wealth and poverty and the changes in our collective attitude as that gap widens. Brooks writes, “Unsurprisingly, psychologists have found that envy pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being. Envy is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick.”
While social media has the potential to make a big world smaller, to bring people of all kinds together, and to strengthen the bonds of friendship, its downside is bleak. Let’s face it: We don’t always experience joyous excitement when scrolling through photos and posts of our friends doing well, enjoying a vacation, or having fun together. Prosperity, pleasure, or an unexpected bonus in someone else’s life can stab you with pain. It might make you depressed or even ill.
Imagine my therapy client who has fertility issues. What does it feel like to her every time she opens Facebook to find a post from yet another former high school classmate announcing her pregnancy? Consider your neighbor who has been unemployed for a year logging onto Google+ only to discover that his longtime friend was recently promoted—again. Sure, there are plenty of people online congratulating one another, sharing in joy, and finding vicarious happiness in the success of others. But envy can be powerful and decidedly unpleasant.
Social media amplifies unintended slights or emotional injuries. Most of all, it exponentially increases the likelihood of social envy.
It’s important to acknowledge the effect this has on us. Envy pops up, sometimes automatically and without our consent. Pushing it down and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t any healthier than indulging or wallowing in it.
A neuroscientific article about envy and the brain explains that abstract emotions (like envy) are experienced in precisely the same way that concrete feelings (like physical pain) are. The brain doesn’t distinguish between the two. Slam your hand in the car door? It hurts. Experience a surge of envy? Same thing. If envy creates pain, it’s a form of suffering, and it’s important to work toward finding positive, healthy ways of managing it.
The Internet brings us closer to each other and we see more. It’s like living in a big, crowded city. In a big city, residents learn how to move efficiently, how to work with one another as they walk down a busy street, how to form a queue, and how to live together in as much harmony as possible in close quarters. On the Internet, in the big city, and in our own social networks, we must become responsible for managing our unavoidable human emotions in a way that won’t inflict negativity on others or sickness and unhappiness on ourselves.
The first step is recognizing envy as it occurs, noticing when you catch yourself falling into a feeling of chronic comparison and disappointment, and understanding that while those feelings might be natural, they don’t have to linger. You can make choices about the attitude you want to take toward the success of others. You can elect to celebrate with them rather than feel emptiness. You can decide to notice a sense of fullness and gratitude rather than counting up the perceived lacks in your own life. A good start is to accept the initial wave of envy and then move forward toward a more positive mindset, for your own good.
Someone, somewhere, has exactly what you want. The attitude you choose to have toward that fact will have long-lasting implications for your own health.
This article first appeared on Rewire Me. To view the original article click here. Pamela Milam is a therapist and life coach who lives in Dallas and New York. She is the author of Premarital Counseling for Gays and Lesbians and is working on another book that takes a close look at what happens inside the therapy office.