lightening bugs

Before hands lit up so brightly in the nighttime
Holding over-sized lightening bugs
Constantly poked and prodded by intensely productive thumbs

Before worth was measured by smiles in pictures and
How many people witnessed your happy

Before unborn children were made famous,
Posted in black, blurry pictures for all to see
Over and over and over until we all cry

Before the beginning and the end of communication

Before all that, people did not walk around
With black bags under sleepy eyes
With half of their senses blocked off, muted
People did not wince at the sound of silence and boredom
Or the idea of connecting with an actual human face to face
Or the release of raw, real human emotion that meant something

But now we hide
In the dark shadows of solitude
In the shade of our perfectly-polished fake lives
In the closet, away from the others, all by ourselves
Stroking over-sized lightening bugs like they are the only things
That can give us light

As if they are the only things that can save us.

They can’t.


Facebook and the Happiness Dilemma

If there is one idea that I wish I could wipe clear from people’s minds, it would be this idealized obsession with “happiness.” We blog about it, we read articles about achieving it, and we create Facebook profiles that mirror the “happy” sides of ourselves; leaving people with an image that just shouts “I’m happy!”

After recently reading an article by the New York Times that explores the idea that social media allows us to have a tiny bit of “fame” in our lives, I started to think more and more about what this meant. It’s no secret that Facebook has become a playground of bragging children who impulsively post about their latest accomplishment or gloat about how well their relationship appears to be doing. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of these children.

While the baby boomers will be quick to point a figure at the millennials and call us out for being the “me” generation, I disagree. I see this type of behavior across all age groups.

In a conversation with a close friend, we were discussing the definition of success. We looked at how people our age are dying to be successful and while most of the people we know are successful, no one really feels like they are, which leads to depression and anxiety among our peers. Why is this? What’s going on?

The thing is, when we do something exciting, we post it on Facebook – whether it’s running a marathon or just going out to eat with friends. Recently, I was so ecstatic from passing my nursing exam that I immediately wanted to share with the world the good news. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t know exactly how many people liked that status, because I do.

So, when my friend and I were discussing the obsession people have with sharing good news on Facebook, I had to share that I understood why people do it. It feels good to have good news that you can share with people. We were raised to believe that bragging is rude, but finally we have an outlet where bragging is not only the norm, but is readily accepted. Instead of people coming straight out and saying, “Hey, I’m awesome. I did it. I got engaged. My search is over. Phew.” with their noses in the air, they can now passively post a picture of their ring and their “best friend” and it all becomes very heartwarming.

On a smaller scale, the best thing that ever happened to Dunkin’ Donuts is the emotion I get when someone Instagrams a photo of a pumpkin coffee and I think to myself, “Man, this average day would be so much better with a pumpkin coffee.” It’s ridiculous!

It all becomes very… happy.

Which brings me back to my first point; our society is obsessed with the idea of happiness. Most people create a goal of happiness for their lives and they take steps to achieve that goal. One person might work at their relationship, knowing that if it ends in marriage, they’ll be happy. Another might work longer hours for a promotion, knowing when they get it, they’ll then be happy.

They will be happy – but what seems to be overlooked is the fact that this is fleeting. They’ll be happy for a while and then they’ll move on to the next thing that they believe will make them happy.

I want to argue that happiness needs to be more flexible, more fluid; maybe happiness can be a spectrum. That way, people do not have to feel so defeated when they get the thing they want and they still are not living their life in infinite bliss. Here’s a quick secret: there is no infinite bliss.

Life sucks sometimes and most days are mundane and boring and filled with humans doing tasks that do not make them very happy. Here’s another secret: This is okay.

If you feel shitty one day and look at your Facebook feed filled with engagements and vacation photos and people bragging about passing tests, please take it at face value. These shiny, happy people have marketed themselves to appear that way. Everyone wants to post the selfie of them and their significant other at a fancy restaurant in France, but no one likes to disclose the details; they fought all the way to the airport, nearly missed their flight, their hotel reservation was lost, and they wanted to go to a nicer restaurant that was filled with reservations.  Let’s be honest, too: no one wants to read that shit either.

Nope, the couple just wants you to know that they are at a restaurant, together, and they are happy.

This constant image of happiness being shoved in our faces can be difficult. For example, when I was depressed not too long ago, I deleted my Facebook page for a while. I just did not want to see the shiny happy people, and I certainly couldn’t force myself to pretend I was happy.

I think the biggest problem this creates is that we lose the ability to reach out to others when we aren’t so happy. It’s a big secret we don’t want people to know.

If I were to fail my nursing exam, not only would I be letting myself down, but I’d be letting down the 67 people who liked my mom’s status that wished me good luck. In short, people would know I failed. It’s a little taste of 2007 Britney Spears and her meltdown.

We all want to appear strong and we want to appear like we have our shit together. We don’t want people to know that we had a meltdown about the scary idea of getting into or not getting into nursing school. We want people to know about how much fun we have on a Saturday night, but we don’t want people to know that we rely on drugs and alcohol to deal with our problems. We want people to know we ran the race, but we don’t want people to know that the reason we started running is because our heart was completely broken and we had nothing else to do with our time but run.

My final takeaway: Facebook away. Share your accomplishments and rejoice on your good days. But don’t look at other people’s pages and think that they never cry in their beds by themselves. Don’t think that the blissfully engaged couple never fights. Don’t think that the person who posted pictures of their ultrasound isn’t desperately anxious about whether they will be a great mother or not.

We choose what we want to share with the world, so we choose the good. It’s important to know that when your life seems a little less than good, you didn’t fail at your goal of happiness. It means you had a rough day or week or month or year. It doesn’t mean you aren’t happy or can’t be happy. It means life is just life.