Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Be Happy in the World of Social Media.

I read a truly wonderful article by Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times the other day entitled “Love People, Not Pleasure.” The gist of the article is that our drives to be wealthy, famous and powerful are the precise factors that can make us unhappy. If we were to focus more on the quality and closeness of our personal relationships, we would be much happier.

That’s an over-simplification, of course, and I encourage you to read the article for yourself. It is dense with insight. One particular insight that I’d like to focus on today is the use of social media and specifically, blogging. For example, Brooks, says this:

“Consider fame. In 2009, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study tracking the success of 147 recent graduates in reaching their stated goals after graduation. Some had 'intrinsic' goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Others had 'extrinsic' goals, such as achieving reputation or fame. The scholars found that intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives. But the people who pursued extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear. They even suffered more physical maladies.”

I can certainly relate to this in terms of my own life and in terms of blogging. I’d always hoped to one day publish a book. Of course I’ve even fantasized about becoming popular and of one day reading my own book reviews on the New York Times. I’m human. But a long time ago, I found that the greatest pleasure in life comes from personal relationships. I get a lot of satisfaction from my marriage, from my children, from the friends and family I have. I’m lucky to be surrounded by caring, smart, hilarious people. It’s an embarrassment of riches, quite frankly. And I’ve spent a lot of time tending to these relationships. Touching base. Inviting people over. Going to get my nails done with a friend. Stopping to talk rather than hurrying off. Planning a girls night out. Going to lunch. These things bring me the greatest pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong. I still work with a writing coach. I still post when I feel like it on this blog. It is important that I do this work and spend time on my passion for writing. But the key is not being attached to the results. Do I need this blog to be hugely popular in order to be happy?

Nope.

Do I need to publish my book when it's done to make me happy?

Nope.

Would those things be nice?

Damn straight they would.

But what do I know for a fact gives me happiness in my current life, as it stands? Writing this post is making me happy at this precise moment. It is an end unto itself. Puzzling over the New York Times article and wondering how it applies to my life gives me a sort of intellectual stimulation, which makes me feel good. Is that odd? Is it strange that this is enough, right here? Maybe so.

But why post it on the Internet for all of you to see? There must be some pleasure in sharing it. And there is, of course. I'd be a liar to say it isn't part of the whole thing. I enjoy your comments. I like seeing what your reactions are to what I have to say. Even more magical is if we connect. If you get it and say, “Ah yes, me too!” For a moment I am not alone in this vast universe of existential loneliness and despair. Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but it does feel good to connect. It’s nice to know I'm not alone with these thoughts. I assume there's some pleasure in it for you too, otherwise you wouldn't be here.

Do I need 100 people to connect? 1,000? 10,000? Or am I satisfied with 1? Oddly enough, it feels good to connect one-on-one, even if it is on the Internet. When I share a post on Facebook and my friends comment on it and laugh, it feels good. I don't really think it's a matter of numbers, but more a matter of quality.

Do I need to be famous, do I need a 100 likes on every post? No. I do not need fame in order to be happy with this pursuit. I do know myself that much. Perhaps that is why I’ve been able to blog as long as I have. I think I started my first quiet little blog on Myspace as far back as 2006. I started with just one new friend who started commenting … and then at the peek I had hundreds of comments every time I posted. It was crazy. And with that came the negative stuff we’ve all heard about or experienced first hand. The trolls. The ridicule. The cruelty. Nasty comments for no damn reason.

So I left it all behind and I returned to a quiet blog with few comments. Familiar friends came and went.

And it made me smile.

This is enough for me, I've decided.

The article seems to suggest that I am an oddity:

“It makes sense. What do you post to Facebook? Pictures of yourself yelling at your kids, or having a hard time at work? No, you post smiling photos of a hiking trip with friends. You build a fake life — or at least an incomplete one — and share it. Furthermore, you consume almost exclusively the fake lives of your social media 'friends.' Unless you are extraordinarily self-aware, how could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?”

I must be extraordinarily self-aware because Facebook doesn’t make me feel bad. I’m aware that everyone’s lives are much more complicated than the glimpse we get in status updates. I know we all struggle. I know I struggle. I blog about it occasionally here. I see a therapist. I go to marriage counseling. I take an anti-depressant. I’m a work in progress. I suppose I don't experience any of this as "fake."

So maybe there’s hope for us all. This article was a nice reminder. It’s good to know what will yield happiness and what will not. It’s good to know that my instincts are right. It’s not the possessions I accumulate (although I do enjoy shoes). It’s not the amount of wealth I accumulate (although I am very fortunate, I know that). It’s not the popularity that I may or may not have (I have this little blog and I have a lot of Facebook friends). None of those things make me happy. I know this.

It’s the little moments. It’s when you leave a comment and I respond. It’s when we make each other laugh in a comment thread on Facebook. It’s when you come to dinner and I cook for you. It’s my writer’s group, gathered around the coffee table. It’s the friends I’ve made at my daughter’s preschool. It’s the friends I’ve had since high school, since my first teaching job, my first advertising gig … and the friends I have at my current ad agency. It’s when my husband and I get through a really tough marriage counseling session and we hug outside when it is over. It’s when my ten-year-old son tells me it’s been the best week of his summer because he spent it at home with me.

I may not be the most popular blogger. I may never publish a book. But when I die I'll know I led a good life. A meaningful life. And it’s because of all of you. All 3 of you. Or all 30 of you. The numbers never made a whit of difference. They may have given me a momentary high, but it quickly faded. I could either chase that high again and be deflated not to have attained it, or I could let go of the pursuit.

It’s nice to have this reminder. Every so often I think of quitting blogging, like so many of us do. But then I wonder why? It's here if I want it. But I am free to ignore it too. It requires nothing of me and yet it gives me pleasure when I want it. I must remember that, above all else. The next time I don't get very many comments or I see a blogger friend has been published on Huffington Post while I have not, I'll say:

"It's the connection, stupid!"

It always was and it always will be. If we can remind ourselves of that, we'll be much more happier for it. I just know it.

30 comments:

  1. Please keep writing regardless : )

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    1. I think you know me well enough by now to know I will.

      But thanks for the encouragement. It means a lot.

      :-)

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  2. Loved this. Simple and straight and true. Do you know....in this crazy, spinning world filled with millions of possible windows, I've found great food for thought in yours. My screen connects to this one and laughter, wisdom, and connection happen. May you write for decades to come....

    ps. The final paragraph in the original article has hit such a cord for me. "The day you declare a truce is the day you become unhappier." How our society promotes a "making peace" at every turn, with every person, every belief, every situation...when perhaps there are some things worth the battle, the declaration of war. Worth not giving up. Worth the effort and time and intentional choices required. If nothing esle is, isn't happiness?

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    1. Nothing worthwhile ever came easy.

      ;-)

      I told you the article was dense! I think I could pick it apart and post for a week. And as you know, and as I'm always telling you, your blog stirs my gray matter more than any other.

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  3. I heart you, Mandy. Not in an icky way. But I think we are cut from a similar cloth (your cloth is much taller, though). I neglect my blog for weeks at a time, and don't get me started on my blog's facebook page. Like you, my happiest moments come from the little things and most of those little things and those little moments happen in my "real life". It's the interaction I have with my kids, my coworkers, the children I work with. Although I do love some aspects of the Blog Life (kind of like the thug life, right?). Making connections with people who have been or are in the same boat...that's priceless. Getting just one email or message from someone saying "Thank you, I needed to read this" gives me all kind of Mother Teresa feels.

    I haven't even read the article yet, ha! Just love what your wrote and am very glad I connected with you via our little blogs :)

    Now, off to read.

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    1. It's nice to be reminded of what's important and what will lead to happiness. It's nice to know it's not fame and fortune. (What a relief!)

      ;-)

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    2. "Getting just one email or message from someone saying "Thank you, I needed to read this" gives me all kind of Mother Teresa feels." This!

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  4. I loved this post, Mandy! It's all so true. As people active on social media and the world of blogging, we do have to always be clear about our purpose. It really shouldn't be about the numbers although of course that's nice too. But if we get too distracted and consumed by the desire to be popular or viral, instead of focusing on the intrinsic joys we derive from our creative work, then all meaning would have been lost. At least, TRUE meaning. Having one reader say, "You saw what's in my heart and wrote the words for me" is more rewarding than having a million followers. At least that's what I think. Anyway, thank you. Thank you for making me feel less alone in this universe. I hope that makes you smile :-))

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    1. It's hard not to be enticed by the numbers and to want the numbers. But if we think it will lead to happiness, it's a fool's errand.

      And your words do make me smile.

      :-)

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  5. Hi Mandy! It is definitely "the connection!" I haven't read the article you linked yet but I too disagree with what he said about Facebook....while I very, very seldom post anything but the happier news in my life, it does make me happy--and I LOVE to see happy news from others as well. I think it keeps my focus on where I want to be rather than where it could go if I was listening to the news or marketers. Plus, as a writer who has had 2 books published and 2 books I published myself--you are as Abe Lincoln said, "about as happy as we make up our mind to be." It is a nice feeling for a couple of days when that book comes out...but honestly we tend to go back to our "happy set-point" and life goes on. Which is all good to know when things aren't going well either. In the end, our relationships with ourselves AND others are what really matter. Thank you for the reminder.

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    1. That's really nice to hear from someone who has already been published. I always feared/suspected it was so.

      Thank you for stopping by and saying hello.

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  6. I was going to say I can't wait until I get to the point where I have friends but I do have friends :). The majority of them live in my computer but I have them and they are so awesome! I will some day....maybe get to the point where I will get out in my neighborhood and meet people but probably not while D is still in the military because I can't deal. But oh how I love my bubble! The people in my bubble make me so crazy but I love these people because they are my people. I so let all my junk swing and hang on facebook sooo yea but I hope people get a good idea that my life rocks so hard! ps. you are sooo freaking cool!!!

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  7. And this is what makes you a stand-out writer---and other more important stuff, too. Talent and popularity can only take a human being so far. You've got soul, woman.

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    1. Aw, thanks. I feel embarrassed now.

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  8. I'll remind you of this when your book is published and Charlie Rose is interviewing you.

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  9. Loved this post and very timely for me. As someone who only recently entered the blogging world, I can get a little obsessed with site stats and comments. But I started blogging because I love to write and, until recently, never set aside the time to devote to it. Blogging, for me, is a way to write for a small audience and connect with people of like-mind. It is a joy when someone tells me they can relate to something I've written. That is more important than how many view I get on a given day. Thanks for the insights!

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  10. very beautifully put, Mandy. I have learned and continue to learn a lot from you on the way to care about my writing without getting all worked up over stats and followings. Thanks for writing things like this

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    1. Thanks Gweenbrick. You know you're one of my favorites!

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  11. Very cool---a great read. It was better the second time through, after I printed it out so I could push back from my desk and read with paper in-hand, as nature intended. So, there: you've been published, as a limited run on my printer. Thanks for this.

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  12. I love this post. A lot of what you said is basically what I have been thinking about blogging myself too. I've quit blogging, come back, quite once or twice more and come back and realize, I don't need to quit to make anyone happy either. it makes me happy with just writing and one of the things I like about it, is finding and reading people like you, who from the start, have made me crack my ass up and in general, enjoy your writing.

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  13. Brilliant post from beginning to end. xxx

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  14. Thank you, for an inspiring post and a wise blog.

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  15. Amen. It's all for the fun of it, whatever it is. That said, I sure hope you don't stop blogging. I don't have the readers or comments I used to, but it makes me so happy to know that my family or old friends can see pictures of our remodeling or read funny stories I might forget to tell them. You're right - it's all about the connection.

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  16. I think you may have inspired me. I don't know yet what I'd write in a letter to myself from years ago, but I suspect it would be a bit bitter. Still, it might be useful, at least to me.

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