Finding balance in the second half of life

Status Anxiety

In Community on January 31, 2011 at 7:02 pm

She’s a close friend. As in, we know each other’s therapists by their first names. As in, we’ve told each other things we’ve never told our therapists. As in, when one of us has work accepted by a big name literary journal, the other one is genuinely happy for her.

So, I miss her. Her emails say she’s working hard, she’s under a lot of pressure, she’s worried about her aging parents. She doesn’t have time to get together.

On Facebook, though, she’s loving the snow, she’s skiing with amazing women, she’s just back from a fantastic massage, she’s winning at Scrabble, she’s had a great weekend viewing ice sculptures and drinking manhattans with K.

In a recent piece on Slate, Libby Copeland argues that “by showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers,” Facebook is making us more miserable than we need to be.

Copeland cites recent Stanford studies showing that people generally tend to believe that others are having more fun than they are. And that we all perpetuate this misconception by being more willing to publicly express positive emotions and experiences than to share our sad thoughts and wasted days.

According to the abstract, one study found “people underestimated negative emotions and overestimated positive emotions even for well-known peers, and this effect was partially mediated by the degree to which those peers reported suppression of negative (vs. positive) emotions.”

And, you know, all my Facebook friends seem to be having so much more fun — and accomplishing so much more — than I am. This one is writing the last chapter of her novel, that one is cooking mushroom soup. He’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, she’s working out every day and loving it, they’re celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary or volunteering in an orphanage in Ghana or driving their daughter to Yale. It’s hard not to feel like a slacker.

I’m not sure how to counteract this kind of status envy. Maybe I’ll address it in my next piece for The New Yorker. When I get back from Cannes. Where I’m really looking forward to meeting J. for manhattans.

–Debra Wierenga

  1. Great post, Deb. I have thought a lot about this–in fact, I’ve thought about suggesting on FB that we all set aside a day during which we post only the unvarnished truth for status updates. I think unless there’s a critical mass doing this, it won’t work. I remember posting something once that was vague and slightly unhappy. Many of my friends expressed concern; some seemed alarmed. I was thinking, “It’s just life, folks.” But I learned my lesson. On Facebook, keep it sunny or keep it to yourself.

  2. This is one reason I am not on Facebook – horrors of horrors! My son can’t quite understand this decision, but it’s simple. I get depressed enough reading annual holiday letters. I don’t need a daily dose of depression or feelings of inadequacy!

  3. Interesting article, and an incredible reflection of our uber-individualistic society. Is the antidote to constantly displaying our successful and glamorous lives, to be more honest and put forth our moments of sadness, as well? What amazes me is that Facebook friends in Egypt came together to bring down a dictator. Yes, that is what happened, starting with a support page for a young man who was beaten by the police some six months ago. Cannot our legitimate grievances as a society — endless war, bank bailouts, high unemployment, rampant foreclosures — also find solution by coming together via social networking? Are we using social media to reinforce isolation — (e.g. I have more than you have, materially and emotionally.) — rather than promote community?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: