I'm not going to pretend I'm some "too cool for social media" type. I check Facebook on a regular basis -- with my coffee, mid-morning, at lunch, and maybe once or twice in the evening after I've put my son to bed (and don't even get me started on Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest).
When I'm not scrolling through other people's parties or some stunningly minimal apartment in Scandinavia, I'm a family finance consultant and writer. I help parents evaluate and improve their family's overall financial picture. And a good chunk of our face-time is spent figuring out what they'd like to have for their family in the future -- a home of their own, private school for their kids, the ability to take a nice vacation once in a while. Everyone's definition of stability and success is highly individualized.
But I've noticed something. While we each have different long-term financial goals for ourselves and for our children, so many of us are letting Facebook dictate how we define our family's happiness, and what we spend our family's hard-earned money on. After all, keeping up with those mythical Joneses used to just be about measuring yourself against your neighbor, or a few couples on your block, but now, we literally have hundreds of Joneses to contend with, each and every day, as they pop right up on our iPad.
This past Sunday, one of my favorite novelists, Laura Zigman, confessed that she had to go on a "vacation photo diet," because seeing all the exotic places other people were visiting (and posting about) left her feeling bad about her own less-traveled life.
But I tell parents, sometimes, wanting to keep up with the Joneses is a really good motivator. And having hundreds of sources of inspiration (and yes, competition) right there at your finger tips, can make you more fulfilled in your personal and professional life -- so long as you keep up with the right Joneses and channel your feelings in the right way.
1. Be yourself
Happiness-guru Gretchen Rubin says it best, with the first (of her twelve) personal commandments of happiness -- "Be Gretchen," and she couldn't be more right when it comes to Facebook.
You'll never know if all of your Facebook friends are truly happy or if they're just performing for their feed. But you do know if you're being authentic or not. And the more authentic you feel, the happier you'll be on social media. Don't "like" companies, causes, movies or books because you think it makes you look a certain way or fits an image you're trying to project to your Facebook "public." The more genuine you are, the less you'll care about other people's self-presentation.
2. Be jealous of people doing things you admire
As it turns out, I have a huge work crush on a particular columnist at a major newspaper. She writes about family and relationships in such an honest, fresh, funny way, I want to print out everything she's ever written and tuck it under my pillow.
I read the columns she posts. I re-read them. I comment on her wall. My obsession with "Katie's" Timeline makes me happier in the long run, because I've channeled it into taking my own work to the next level.
This reporter also happens to post pictures of hersel in these amazing yoga poses. I tried a few classes and am so inflexible the instructor asked me to move to the back as I was a "distraction" to other people (see number one, I have to "Be Jacoba," and yoga, apparently isn't).
Point being, if someone does something you're envious of -- finishes a marathon, starts a food blog, spends a month in Italy -- think about why you want to be more like them and how you can make it happen. Run every weekend? Sign up for a cooking class? Learn Italian? Use the emotions you feel about people's Facebook personas to change your "real life" offline.
3. Be jealous of the big things you want
Take a hard look at the Facebook friends who make you feel down on yourself and ask, what larger financial goals have they achieved that you haven't yet?
Envy for a purely material good like a giant flatscreen or a new designer handbag is hard to channel into something productive. But, if you're jealous of that pretty home with the open floor plan (as you jam your kid's high chair into your galley kitchen), ask yourself whether you'd like to buy a house for your family, and if so, are you directing your emotions towards saving every month to get closer to making that a reality? Is someone's job promotion or acceptance to graduate school reminding you of the larger goals you want to achieve?
The more you turn your resentment into daily actions (picture that big, airy kitchen as you pass on that new pair of shoes or pricey dinner reservation), the more you'll feel positively motivated by your Facebook feed.
Most importantly, we're all forgetting: Facebook is supposed to be fun. If it's causing you more stress than satisfaction, don't check it. After a few weeks, I promise, you won't even notice what you're "missing."
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