Authenticity and The Social Epidemic of Happiness

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The image of happiness is laughing eyes and tongue sticking out in a picture frame. My mobile camera goes click-click, balanced on a selfie stick held at an angle that flatters the errant jawline of my cheek. Eyebrows on fleek… click. One-eyed wink… click. Kim K’s pout … click. Goofy squint look… click. Two dozen pictures and filtered edits later, instagram is ready for my awesomeness.

The image of happiness is a facebook post; pre-wedding shots overflow feeds boldly captioned ‘save the date’. Wives flaunt husbands. Husbands flaunt wives. Parents share pictures of kids at every stage of their growth in a surprising wave of media parenting.

Yet, the paradox of our existence is with all the happy media frenzy, there are many out there who suffer bouts of depression.

Last month I had an emotional breakdown. I had spent the early hours of my birthday thinking where my life might be headed, and days on social media binging on everyone’s happy story, wondering why my life wasn’t cool enough. And inasmuch as we’re told never to compare our journey with that of other people, we can’t eliminate the lines of our individual existence that crisscross and overlap, nor can we deny its existence. So may be this comparison is a natural response to our shared reality.

I’ve been thinking about this, our social epidemic of happiness. The unicorn moments we love to create for the pages; the frames of laughter we hang on our wall or store in our mobile phones; moments of bliss we are all too happy to share with the world. Then there’s everything else either dialed down they are barely noticeable, or completely tuned off—and that’s the part we wish remains undiscovered.

In her Tedtalk, Brené Brown speaks about the power of vulnerability; the difficulty in letting ourselves be deeply and vulnerably seen by others; our need for connection and erroneous belief that being vulnerable is akin to weakness. We think that to belong means to put up a happy front for everyone… even ourselves. And so we try to numb those feelings, but we cannot selectively numb “[because] when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness… and then we’re miserable.”

So I went through an emotional breakdown and cried and deleted my evil social media apps and shut out all my friends. But the thing is I didn’t feel any better. I still walked around trying to stop my cracks from deepening, and I struggled with it long enough to know my way wouldn’t work until I brought back the evil apps and talked to someone. And that’s exactly what I did. By opening up to someone else, I revealed another part of myself and learned a bit more about them. My feelings weren’t abnormal. My sadness was shared by many others. In my vulnerability I had connected. In connecting I allowed myself more joyful emotions.

Put into perspective, we can begin to appreciate the masterpiece that is Pixar’s Inside Out. Our mantra may be simple: sadness is negative emotion; happiness is positive emotion.  So when the photographer asks us to stare at the camera, he demands a smile before clicking the shutter button, adding to our belief that to immortalize this emotion is better than to do the other. But in truth sadness need not be the opposite of happiness; sometimes it could be another path to happiness.

The most interesting image I have of myself is an ‘accidental’ photo over three years old. Clad in a red tank top, hands clasped beneath jaw and eyes staring down a table, I’m the perfect image of disappointed. It’s still one of my favourite pictures, not just for its authenticity, but because every day it reminds me that we are a ball of emotional energy—not just happy ones, but sad, vulnerable, weak, crazy energy, and it’s okay to share those too.

 

Image: Instagram @Anapuzar

 

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21 thoughts on “Authenticity and The Social Epidemic of Happiness

  1. debyonce January 3, 2017 / 11:36 pm

    Thanks so much for this emotional post you really have such a way with words.Indeed social media can sometimes can push us to our limits and be demanding.But what is the real meaning of hapiness and sadness?I loved how you used the Inside and Out lesson cause sometimes we need to be sad in order to be happy,Cause in the end all emotions matter and are conected.

    If you could have a look in my blog http://gravatar.com/debyonce

    Like

  2. Ann Coleman November 3, 2016 / 3:39 pm

    Excellent post! I think social media does encourage us to “live out life on stage,” and that puts far too much pressure on everyone to try to be, or at least look, happy all the time. And that’s a horrible thing. Real life, as you said, is a mixture of emotions. And connecting with other people is so necessary that it should never be limited to only sharing our happy and proud moments. There is strength in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.
    Thanks for being so honest in this post… I’m glad you found help, and trust me, you helped everyone who read this post as well.

    Like

    • uju November 25, 2016 / 12:35 am

      Thank you, Ann 🙂

      Like

  3. Nedoux October 31, 2016 / 9:55 am

    Hi Uju,

    Ah, the requisite ‘Pre-birthday Breakdown’, it comes, we count blessings and it goes. Till next year. Your feelings were not abnormal, it’s the cord that binds us all, some are simply better at masking it than others.

    I’ve become quite the cynic, seemingly happy smiles don’t always convince me that the “smilee” has a life that’s generously doused in perfection.

    Happiness is fleeting, I’m becoming more focused on the Pursuit of Joy.

    Well-written as always. 🙂

    Like

  4. ifemmanuel October 19, 2016 / 8:43 am

    It seems we wrote about this at almost the same time. Here’s a quote by Rebecca Solnit I shared when I tried to grapple with this too:

    ‘Joy is such an interesting term, because we hear constantly about happiness, “Are you happy?” And it’s — emotions are mutable, and this notion that happiness should be a steady state seems destined to make people miserable. And joy is so much more interesting, because I think we’re much more aware that, it’s like the light at sunrise, or the lightning or something that is epiphanies in moments and raptures, and that it’s not supposed to be a steady state, and that’s OK. And I think it’s a word that comes up a lot more in spiritual life than happiness…’

    It’s always good to have you back after your small leaves of absence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju October 19, 2016 / 9:55 am

      Oh yes, joy does come up more in spiritual life. Hmm thanks for sharing this, Ife, it just made me think of something.
      The bible talks about joy a lot and one that readily comes to mind of Jesus’ words in John 16 which I’ve been studying for a while now, “ask for whatever you want and I will give to you, that your joy may be complete.” When you lay this side by side with another verse in that same chapter, “in the world you will have tribulations, but do not be discouraged, I have overcome the world”, it makes our spiritual state a bit clearer.

      Rebecca is right, joy is an interesting term. It’s not a steady state, but more the knowledge that whatever your current state, it will not be steady either. So yeah, all these emotions will come and perhaps swamp you, but so will happiness too. And joy is knowing that nothing is in itself permanent.

      I think we should equate joy with hope. It just reminds me of hope… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • ifemmanuel October 20, 2016 / 8:36 am

        of course joy and hope go together. I think hope is what makes joy possible, because it is the only thing that offers light when sadness is around. And the christian faith has always been a faith that is about joy. ‘The joy of the lord is your strength,’ ‘Count it all joy when you face trials,’ etc. Happiness isn’t a bad thing, but joy, not happiness, is the thing we’re always encouraged to strive for.

        Like

  5. Holistic Wayfarer October 16, 2016 / 4:37 am

    Happy (I mean Sad) Belated Birthday, dear Uju.
    This mature post speaks to my (invisible) struggles of late. So you wonder how many others are going around with the same invisible load.

    The recluse in me finds the shared reality very hard at times, esp bc our lives meet more often in the daily mundane where people don’t get at the deep stuff. So yes, what we often glimpse and share comes sugar coated. My tongue zings out.

    “I’ve been thinking about this, our social epidemic of happiness”
    Epidemic of perceived happiness.

    I’m so glad you reached out to a friend you felt safe to be real with.

    Love,
    Me

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju October 16, 2016 / 6:16 pm

      Lol@Sad belated birthday 😀 Hehe thank you, D.
      I’m glad the post spoke to your current struggles, and I hope it gets better for all ld us.
      The world could do with more people who help us carry our loads.

      Thank you 🙂

      Like

  6. George October 16, 2016 / 4:14 am

    So that’s where you’ve been, huh. It’s nice to see you back here.
    I’m sorry you had such a difficult time last month but I’m not surprised. You are on a different level intellectually than most. You think wider. You feel stronger. You hurt deeper than most. So this is a it a surprise.
    But social media is just that and in many ways it’s a coverup. So many smiling faces with pain behind them. So much smoke and mirrors.
    We could go on for quite some time discussing your words here but I think you’ve done that quite well and in more ways than you’ve expressed here.
    I’m glad you had someone to share yourself with and I’m glad they helped.
    Keep being who you are but enjoy your life. You have so much to offer this world. Sometimes with a smile. Sometimes with your hands clasped beneath your chin and your eyes cast down in disappointment. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju October 16, 2016 / 6:15 pm

      It’s so nice to see you again, George.
      Your words as always are kind and does so much to make me feel better.
      Thank you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. livelytwist October 14, 2016 / 4:17 pm

    Beautifully written.

    Facebook, Instagram & the rest are not for sad photos. There, we put our best foot forward. We should remind ourselves of this . . . as often as necessary.

    Glad you’re back! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju October 16, 2016 / 6:13 pm

      Thank you, Timi 🙂
      You’re right about the social media being about putting our best foot forward.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nedoux October 31, 2016 / 9:45 am

      Timi, profound point!

      Social media is where we give our best.

      We show people what we want them to believe, and whether they are convinced or not is really up to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Xceptional43 October 14, 2016 / 11:14 am

    “but because every day it reminds me that we are a ball of emotional energy—not just happy ones, but sad, vulnerable, weak, crazy energy, and it’s okay to share those too…”

    Like you, my favorite pictures are always wierd candid photos. Caught off gaurd shoot and not really the preemptive ones.

    As for Brene Brown’s TEDTALK, glad I’m not the only one who loved it. It’s amazing.

    And welcome back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju October 14, 2016 / 11:27 am

      “Like you, my favorite pictures are always wierd candid photos. Caught off gaurd shoot and not really the preemptive ones”

      Lol I think those kind of photos truly define the need for photographs.

      Thank you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. A.PROMPTreply October 13, 2016 / 2:32 pm

    Ah! Welcome back, Uju! You have been missed. And I see you’ve returned in your inimitable form……taking a serious issue you’ve faced and turning it around to share with the rest of us as a positive thing! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju October 13, 2016 / 6:26 pm

      It’s so nice to see you again 🙂
      Thank you for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

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