Inspirational quotes of dubious provenance are just one of the ways in which social media sells a warped vision of living fully

Youve seen them before, because they are all over Instagram: the captions urging you to embrace your expansion, whatever that means, slow down to savor the moment, and hustle like youre Beyonc all at once.

Start visualizing what you want, then say no to anything that isnt it, reads one. Another: Buy the plane ticket, quit the job, plan the trip, wander into the unknown, open your heart, take the leap.

These reminders to live fully are omnipresent on social media platforms. We are constantly told how to live well, happily, adventurously or spontaneously. An army of experts are instructing us to wash our faces, to be a badass, and to say yes.

This #inspiration strategy works because humans are wired to wantsignificance and meaning. But what does living fully really mean in the age of Instagram, when anyone can wear matching yoga pants as they stand, arms outstretched and back to the camera, soaking in whatever scenic background theyve found that day?

Madi Richardson, 23, explains that if shed been asked what living fully meant a few years ago, she would have said traveling. Right after high school, Richardson was following a plethora of people her age on Instagram, including some with significant followings. The photos I saw of them were on vacations, she explains. Living, I guess, what seemed like everything but worry or negative emotions. With every scroll, Richardson saw glorious summers packed full with local music festivals and scenic hikes, usually with inspirational quotes peppered in between.

Soon, doubt started to creep in. Were her peers living a better, more exciting life than she was? Although she didnt post those kinds of photos herself, she says: There was jealousy and feelings of guilt because I didnt go on a vacation every other weekend, or go scuba diving, jump out of a plane, or camp in the wilderness all summer.

As a photographer herself, she also had to contend with professional pressure, wondering if the better cameras or bigger cities others showcased were missing pieces to even more success.

Richardson describes such curated lives as a pecking order of excitement, explaining that she had other responsibilities, including her own bills and pressure to attend college, that didnt align with this narrow definition of living fully. It took me a while to become at peace with who I am, she says. It wasnt until I tried to mimic the trends that I realized: this isnt who I am.

Dr Erin Vogel, a social psychologist who explores the influence technology has on our lives and wellbeing, says: Social media seems to define living fully as being adventurous, spontaneous and extroverted. For people who are fulfilled by a quieter life, social media seems to tell them that theyre living life the wrong way.

She explains what most social media users know to be true: when using social media, users often compare their lives with others. In reality, even your most adventurous friend probably has some lackluster experiences or boring evenings spent watching Netflix.

Vogel points to the unfortunate trend of people taking selfies with wild animals and getting injured as an example of how doing it for the gram can backfire. It can be a positive, she says, if it leads you to push yourself and try new things. Often, it takes you away from the present moment instead. You may book an excursion for your next trip thinking this will be fun, Vogel says. But in the back of your mind, you might also be thinking about how great the pictures will be.

The same goes for quote photos, which are another element of the highlight reel Instagram has come to be regarded as.

instagram
Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

Gordon Pennycook, an assistant professor of behavioural science at the University of Regina, has published research on pseudo-profound bullshit, which he defines as things constructed without regard for the truth. He notes that it is quite possible that ostensibly inspirational quotes could fit into the broader category. Pennycook says this type of content spreads online because we dont spend a lot of time thinking about it. This is why inspirational quotes often dont make any sense, he explains. Typically, it gets spread because it has some sort of intuitive or emotional appeal.

He points out that the most significant difference between the spread of inspirational quotes and the spread of fake news is that quotes generally make users feel good, while fake news provokes anger or fear. In either case, emotionality overrides rationality, he says.

But what happens when an individual does live fully and authentically, and is met with skepticism?

When Nicole Roberts, 31, came out the other side of a bad relationship, she opted to move from San Diego to Austin for a promotion without knowing anyone there. I had many people respond one of two ways, Roberts says. The first was are you crazy? You dont know anyone there! and the second was Yolo! Live your life!

It bothered her, she says, to hear so many assume she had not thoroughly considered her new move. All she wanted was a change of scenery and the opportunity to grow after a stifling personal situation.

That nuance that living fully can be quiet; that what looks like a grand adventure could really be a complicated personal reset; that even our most inspired choices may be steeped in anxiety goes missing when all we have are visual examples.

Behind the projection of freedom, real life isnt as neat when youre actually living fully. Its often messy or complicated and demands we ask ourselves questions that run deeper than advice to create a life you dont need a vacation from.

What makes us happy, at its core, is an existential question, according to Sara Kuburic, a psychotherapist and counselor who works with millennials. She believes inspirational tropes are popular because they offer the promise of immediate fulfillment. I find that people increasingly conceptualize living fully as seizing opportunities, taking risks and exploring the unknown, she says. Living fully, in the Instagram age, is often then reduced to doing things that would be worth documenting.

But, Kuburic argues, a full life which she defines as one full of meaning, freedom, responsibility, and grounded in an authentic relationship with yourself is the same as it was pre-Instagram.

We are eager to live our lives fully, she says. Yet the pressure to prove this to our friends is a major reason why we are not.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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