When I first read the words ‘positive mental attitude’, an image is instantly conjured up of a caricature. That person is the typically overly-enthusiastic and sickeningly proactive ‘go-getter’.
The #fitfam who posts ‘no-pain-no-gain’ as they complete their third workout of the day, washing the sweat and muscle aches down with an acai-coconut blend.
The recently-promoted business executive who just had their highly-anticipated board meeting and landed their pitch after many sleepless nights and hours in front of a computer screen.
The student who made a hundred revision cards, laminated them, cross-referenced them with the wider reading list and aced the module.
Okay so I’m embellishing slightly, and whether we know these people or not, chances are we’ve wanted to be one of them at least once in our lifetime. That isn’t a bad thing, nor is it a bad thing to have achieved this status: you put in the work, you deserve something back, right?
Having read Jamie Varon’s thought-provoking piece, ‘This Is How We Date Now’, I began to consider how much of the imagery and anecdotal evidence projected to us on social media is comfortably curled up in what I like to call ‘the blanket of betterness’. When describing relationships, Varon makes the controversial statement:
“We do it. We find it. Then, quickly, we live it for others. We tell people we’re in a relationship on Facebook. We throw our pictures up on Instagram. We become a “we.” We make it seem shiny and perfect because what we choose to share is the highlight reel. We don’t share the 3am fights, the reddened eyes, the tear-stained bedsheets… We don’t tweet 140 characters of sadness when we’re having the kinds of conversations that can make or break the future of our love. This is not what we share. Shiny picture. Happy couple. Love is perfect.”
Very soon, I could see this ‘blanket of betterness’ happening everywhere and even noticed my own inclination to post in the same way. But do we think about the feelings that these kinds of post instil in others, or even in ourselves? If you’ve just been rejected from a job or had a relationship break down, often one of the first things you will see shortly after is a status: “great day today, killing it! #ilovemyjob” or a picture of someone’s anniversary dinner. These people probably aren’t your closest friends and family, the ones who are there to support and comfort you through the hardships. These people are acquaintances from secondary school, that evening class you went to once or maybe even just a ‘follower’ online. They aren’t posting their happy moments and shiny pictures in order to hurt you (or anyone else), but if you never see what difficulties lay behind the blanket, it can be disheartening or even a bitter pill to swallow.
Of course we all want to post with the blanket over us. We don’t want our next-door-neighbour’s yoga teacher to know that we haven’t showered all day, cried twice at ‘Brave’, and that we really just don’t know how to handle what’s happening at the moment – and that’s fine. The important thing is to be aware that when it feels like everyone has, or is, what you so badly want, they’ve been where you are too. Just because it looks like they’ve got the ‘positive mental attitude’, the motivation or the persistence, it doesn’t mean they didn’t and still don’t have the tears, the loneliness and the disappointments.
Having noticed the ‘blanket of betterness’, PMA for me no longer means giving myself unachievable goals based on other people’s achievements. What it does mean is looking at myself, my abilities and obstacles objectively, and acknowledging that sometimes I’ll get stuck, be hurt and feel demotivated. But I know that’s okay, because I’m human and none of us are happy and successful all the time.
Social media isn’t an accurate depiction of a person’s life and just because I can’t see your 2am tears on my newsfeed, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. We’ve just got to try and remember this when we compare ourselves to others online.
I’ve found in my experience that the most supportive networks can be found through tumblr. With twitter I still see a lot of ‘what I’ve achieved’ posts – which again I’m not knocking – but it can still feel a bit daunting to see. I agree it’s way more candid though!