Social media has changed the way we behave. Making us more connected has also made it much easier to compare ourselves to each other. That’s why it’s ever more important to differentiate between being enviable and being happy.
See Through The Success Theatre
While they’re great tools, social networks like Facebook and Instagram have naturally made it easier to compare ourselves to other people. As the late philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in The Conquest of Happiness:
You cannot, therefore, get away from envy by means of success alone, for there will always be in history or legend some person even more successful than you are. You can get away from envy by enjoying the pleasures that come your way, by doing the work that you have to do, and by avoiding comparisons with those whom you imagine, perhaps quite falsely, to be more fortunate than yourself.
Comparing ourselves to our friends on Facebook would be more valid, if they were real. But as columnist Jenna Wortham suggests in The New York Times, they’re little more than a calculated image users choose to project:
We’ve gotten better at it because it matters more. You never know who is looking or how it might affect your relationships and career down the road, and as a result, we have become more cautious about the version of ourselves that we present to each other and the world.
It’s crucial to remember that we’re only seeing what other people want us to see. We feel obstacles and negative emotions firsthand in our lives, yet we often don’t see a trace of them in our networks. We end up comparing other people’s highlight reels to our practice tapes.
The success theatres of Facebook and Instagram, and the instant validation and ego boosts that we can feel from these services, also encourage people to manufacture events in their lives. Some of them even become pseudo-events of their own: “Hey man, I can’t believe you got 200 likes on that photo.” Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, these items appear at the top of all of our friends’ feeds.
We can’t stop events that become “Liked” or “Favorited” from becoming recognised achievements. We can choose to stop the bragging about, or even manufacturing, events in order to try to feel validated. Facebook is what we make it.
Instead of trying to impress the dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of weak ties we have on these networks, we can turn inwards and focus our efforts and energies into the essential things and people that bring us alive.
We’ve compared ourselves to others since the day before forever. Social media merely exaggerates this tendency. None of this is to say you should avoid it completely — just to be careful about comparing yourself to others.
Differentiate Between Enviable Careers And Happy People
When it comes to our careers, prestige, pride, and enviability sound synonymous with happiness. Yet they’re not the same. As Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson explains in a Kenyon College Commencement speech:
In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
Having an enviable career and being a happy person are not always mutually exclusive, of course. But a high flying, wealthy, enviable careers don’t necessarily make you happy. Then again, no “dream job” really ever does, unless it’s what you want to do. It can be difficult to come to grips with this, but it’s important to be honest with yourself.
You Can’t (Always) Buy Your Dreams
The image that comes with prestigious careers won’t necessarily make you happy, either.
“We’ve been taught since day one to stop believing in our own dreams,” said Kanye West in Interview Magazine. “We’ve had the confidence beaten out of us since day one, and then sold back to us through branding and diamond rings and songs and melodies — through these lines that we have to walk inside of so as to not break the uniform or look silly or be laughed at.”
Buying happiness, to flaunt wealth and be enviable, inevitably only fills a small part of the holes in our hearts for a short amount of time. Then, we come back — needing more external validation, needing more approval from other people, and doing more shit work to impress more people that don’t really matter.
I’m not saying money isn’t important. You can’t pay for shelter or health care with passion. Money pays bills. More importantly, money can buy you some peace of mind, which can lead to happiness. But spending money to create an enviable image isn’t a solution that results in happiness.
Drill Down To Your Core
It can be tough to discern between what you feel, from your core, and how others’ opinions make you feel. Tracking how excited or passionate you feel before work, or checking your own responses to your work, may help you dive down into your true feelings.
When I was making an important decision at an uncertain point of my life, a wise man suggested an exercise where I track my high points and low points daily for a week and looking for patterns. (I started doing this every day, but mostly because it serves another function — to make my memories last longer.) As you slowly and methodically discover what your patterns and values and passions are, you’ll be able to narrow down what fulfils you. You’ll realise what makes you excited, or what pushes your buttons, and why.
Entrepreneur Derek Sivers once wrote an article entitled “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no” suggesting a simple rule for avoiding trouble in the long run: if your and the other party’s response is anything but a “HELL YEAH!” then it’s a “No”.
It’s important to ask yourself regularly: “Would I want to do what I’m about to do for the next year?” If the answer consistently becomes no for too many days in a row, then it might be time to make a change. (For those of us who find it more easy to commit to things , extend that to five years.)
Remember, if you choose to pursue happiness, it will be rewarding in the long run but could be troublesome in the short run. When confronted, keep military strategist B.H. Liddell Hart’s advice in mind: “Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience.”
Decide Between What You “Should” Do And What You “Must” Do
Every day, we have a choice between “should” — what we think the world expects of us — and “must” — what we, at our core, want to pursue. Too many of us spend our best days, years, or entire lives choosing “should”. Our desires for profit, to impress others, silences our conscience and our passion.
With that said, family and friends may depend on you and have their own expectations or vision. You don’t always immediately get to walk your own way, or at your own pace, in life. They may be open to gradual change, though. Know this and involve them in your decisions. Their opinions are important. The dozens of connections you have on LinkedIn? Not so much.
Ironically, in the midst of all the illusions the world attempts to conjure, the ultimate enviable career is one that makes you happy. As Bertrand Russell wrote, “After all, what is more enviable than happiness?”
A version of this article originally appeared on Elite Daily