Monday, February 10, 2020

Social Media and the Thief of Joy

In my last post, I discussed how dangerous the comparison game can be: how it can rob us of peace and tranquility, making us feel inadequate and unlovable; how it can make us forget that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, with an immortal soul that is unique and beautiful and worthy of love; how we were all made exactly as we are meant to be, warts and all (yes, we all have them--and that's okay!).  Why do we look at others around us and feel like we don't stack up?  Why do we think, If I was just [prettier, smarter, thinner, more talented, more outgoing--you fill in the blank] than I am, I would be [happier, more successful, more confident, a better mother, more beloved--fill in the blank again]?  Maybe you don't do this, but every now and then I do, and I know it's a terrible habit that I need to break.

I've struggled with this off and on throughout my life.  For instance, in this 1978 photo of my husband and me, taken at a friend's wedding when we were going into our junior year of college, I can remember comparing myself to the other females at the reception and wishing I looked like anyone but me.  I'd gained the freshman 10 and then added another 10 my sophomore year, decided to cut my hair short and regretted the change, and was wearing an extremely unflattering dress.  And there he was, my matinee idol boyfriend, so handsome I could hardly look at him without becoming breathless.  What did he see in me, anyway? I wondered.  I could be so hard on myself!  And why?  This guy loved me!  He could have discarded his high school girlfriend for someone "better" when we went off to college in different parts of the country, but our long-distance relationship was still going strong after two years of mostly being apart.  (We had no Facetime, but wrote lots of letters!)  2020 Laura, 39 years into an extremely happy marriage to the good-looking guy in this picture, wishes she could tell 1978 Laura to lift up her head and smile with confidence, secure in the knowledge that he wanted her just the way she was.

At the end of that last post, I hinted that I would be back to explore the topic of comparison further, focusing on how social media has made the habit of comparing ourselves to others even more of a problem than ever before.  So here it is, another post just days after the last one!  (Is blogging back?!  Maybe not, but I am.  And thanks to all the nice readers who left sweet and encouraging comments for me last time I was here.  I was feeling the love--and I finally got around to replying to all of you wonderful people.)

I don't know about you, but I find that I am sometimes left feeling a bit blue after too much time spent scrolling through Facebook feeds.  It's not just that Facebook has become a popular platform for uncomfortable discussions about politics and countless nasty anti-religion/anti-life memes; it has, but there is also plenty of positive news, daily, about family and friends, some of them long-lost before the advent of social media--not to mention all those wonderful photos of loved ones that you might not otherwise see.  There is so much good to be found there, no doubt about it.  But there is also so much bad.  And some of what is bad comes from looking at all the good and worrying that in comparison to what you're seeing, you or your life is "less than."

Jenny Uebbing, one of my favorite Catholic wordsmiths of all time, touched on this topic in her recent Instagram stories, admitting that sometimes after ingesting too much social media she comes away asking herself questions like Why can't I get up early and work out? or Why aren't my kids X,Y, or Z? or Why doesn't my house look like that?  She went on to talk about the danger in this--how social media is really just two-dimensional, and how it gives us a 40,000-foot view of other people's lives (I'm paraphrasing here, trying to remember exactly how she put things), so we're not really seeing the whole picture. I realize that deep down, everyone probably knows this about social media; they know that people usually only post the good and the beautiful, the uplifting aspects of their lives, not the dark struggles they might be going through at the time. (Because I don't care how blessed you are, let's face it: no life is ever lived without trials and tribulations, without sadness, fear, and loss.)  I mean, there's nothing wrong with wanting to share mostly the best portions of your life with the online world.  But this can also lead people to compare, and then to feel down because their lives don't seem nearly as bright and sparkly as those light-filled images and upbeat captions they see--even though they know in their heart of hearts that these images and captions don't tell the whole story.

The other danger about comparing our lives to the Facebook and Instagram feeds of others, Uebbing observed, is that we're not all at the same point in life at the same time, and it's harmful to compare our lives to those of people going through completely different stages than we're going through.  How true is this?!  You might feel like you're drowning right now, with a houseful of crazy toddlers and demanding babies, or a couple of angsty teens, and find yourself worrying about how your children are going to turn out and wondering how things will look 10 or 20 years from now.  Then you'll see a picture of a family you know, showing the kids all grown-up, happy, and successful; and without even knowing you're doing it, you might start to feel like  maybe you're a failure as a parent, even though you're not seeing all the many difficult stages that family went through as they traveled the bumpy road you're currently on to get to where they are now.

You can do this in reverse, too, which is what I sometimes do; I see all the wonderful things young Catholic Instagram mamas are doing with their children, how they're creatively celebrating the different liturgical seasons and the feast days of the saints, and I'll worry that I didn't do enough to help instill the Faith in our boys back when I had the chance. When I do this, I'm comparing a grandmother who is now at a stage decades ahead of these moms, a mother who did her very best at the time and shouldn't waste her time on regrets, and it seriously makes no sense.  Especially because although my husband and I had to deal with our share of challenges and certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way, we somehow managed to raise five terrific sons who are still practicing Catholics, are in sacramental marriages with lovely young women, and have given themselves over to the will of God as far as how many children they will have.  Somewhere along the way, I guess, we must have done a few things right.  (Or maybe we're just incredibly lucky.)  So looking back and wishing to change anything that we did is an exercise in futility.  As my late mother-in-law (who quite successfully raised four sons and four daughters) used to say, "If you change one thing, you change everything."

Who would change this?

Or this?

As a mother, you can't help panicking just a little when your kids grow up and leave the nest for the first time, wondering if you've done all you could to prepare them for life; this certainly happened with me.  Danielle Bean describes those feelings better than I ever could in this Instagram post I stumbled upon recently, written as her daughter was getting ready to leave for college:

"We tend to pause and doubt...Did we say all the things?  Teach all the lessons?  Read all the stories?  Say all the prayers?  Did we do all the stuff?...Was it enough?  I can look back now and see that we did a lot of things, but it was not enough.  It is never enough.   We always fall short.  But God knows what he is about...We all fall short, but the gaps leave room for God.  And he fills them with grace."

I love that!  God fills in the gaps!

It's hard enough to think you're doing a good enough job raising your kids without the added pressure of seeing how everyone else is doing it, all the time, all over social media. I am so, so thankful that there wasn't that kind of added pressure when we were raising our boys!  I think it must be tougher for my daughters-in-law to feel they are "enough" (and believe me, they are MORE than enough!), when everyone is online, over-sharing, presenting a picture that makes it look like they have it all together, all the time.  Some young moms can handle it just fine, taking it for what it is and not letting it affect their confidence and peace of mind; if I was just starting out now in the motherhood game, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be one of them.

I think this post has gone on long enough, so I'll just wrap it up by saying that even when I catch myself succumbing to the dangerous practice of comparison, I simultaneously feel like the luckiest and most blessed woman on God's green earth and know that I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's.  So why do I ever waste even a single moment of this precious time allotted to me wishing for even one aspect of it to be different?  My mother-in-law was spot-on: if you change one thing, you change everything.  If I had been a different sort of person, or if even one thing had happened differently along the way, I might not be where I am today.  And that is the LAST thing I would want.

So here is what I'm going to strive to remind myself, whenever I start to compare myself to others and feel "less than": You are God's precious child.  You are perfect as you are--which is not to say that you are perfect, because the only human being for whom that adjective is true is the Blessed Mother; but you are the person God meant you to be, with the looks, talents, and temperament He gave you to use to use wisely and well, in order to make your way back to Him and become a saint in Heaven.

Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote bears repeating: "Comparison is the thief of joy."  Truer words were never spoken.  If checking Facebook or Instagram too often leads you to let that cruel and conniving thief rob you of your joy, take a break from social media for a bit.  Instagram is a mostly positive force in my life; but even so, I'm thinking of doing just that for Lent.


  1. It's so interesting you posted this. There's a lot to think about. I have often found that not only is social media a place of comparison but a place of judgement. Last year women's version of Exodus 90 rid me completely of Instagram but I held on to Facebook. This year I am 29 days in to the journey and I don't care one iota of the things I have "missed." My life was not better for them.

    It's a strange and unpopular place to be, but I know I am better serving the Lord with my heart and soul when I let those things go. Luckily, since the blogs I read a are uplifting and primarily Catholic, they do feed my spirit in a good way. :)

    1. Sorry that I am so late responding to this! I can no longer reply to comments on my phone (?), so I have to wait til I'm sitting at my computer...which I don't do nearly often enough these days. But I may spend Lent trying to write more here at the blog.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing this! I ended up looking up Exodus 90 to find out about it, and it seems like a really awesome way to grow in holiness. I may have to give it a go eventually!

      You mention judgment: I have heard that sometimes even in the world of Catholic social media, there is a lot of that going on when people share their struggles. I can't imagine that! I have never seen it first-hand, but that goes completely against what we are supposed to be doing for each other and it makes me sad to think it's going on.

      God bless you this Lent and always, my friend!

  2. Replies
    1. Hello, sista sista! Sorry I am so rarely on here--but I notice your comments and always appreciate them! XO

  3. I am thinking of foregoing Instagram for Lent. I’m not on facebook much but I keep it for family that’s out of state. Comparing myself to the intact Catholic families with many kids/grandkids has really been stealing my peace lately. My childhood was not happy and neither was my first marriage. I only have one child when I wanted more and I will only ever have four grandchildren. I am the only practicing Catholic in my immediate and extended family. I feel so out of place on Catholic Instagram. Thank you for the validation, Laura. I thank God for you and your blog. I think I will take a break for Lent.

    1. Oh Aileen, I hear you! I definitely agree that if anything about social media steals your peace, getting away from it--at least for a while--is the best thing. Someone I follow on Instagram mentioned that with Lent upon us, it can be hard to look at the "alpha" personalities (the well-known Catholic "influencers") and see what they're up to, because it can lead you to think you're not doing "enough." So I know what you mean about Catholic Instagram...sometimes, I have to stop myself from feeling "less than," because it seems like the young gals on there are posting pregnancy announcements every other day, and it seems as if none of them have less than 7-10 kids. So even though we have 5, I'll think that we should have had more...

      But we are all on such individual paths, with different sets of circumstances and different crosses to carry. And we should be compassionate and non-judgmental toward those whose lives look different. <3

      God bless you, my friend.

  4. WOnderful post, as usual. I've given up Instagram (don't have Facebook) for Lent the past two years, and will do it again this year. It truly does make me a better person, once I get over the withdrawal ;) But yet I get back on after Easter and get sucked back in. I literally never feel better after scrolling my feed. Yet I still do it often. It's such a weird phenomenon and I wish I just had more like-minded real life friends who lived near me!

    1. Colleen, I've done the same thing: given up social media for Lent, and then gotten right back on after and sucked right back in. It IS a weird phenomenon. I was going to give it all up again, but I am still discerning about Instagram. For the most part, I find myself inspired by reminders of saints' feast days, new yummy recipes, etc., not to mention all the beautiful images on there. For the most part, I leave IG feeling happy. I went through a stretch where spending too much time scrolling would sometimes make me feel regretful about not doing more of the special activities I see on there for Catholic feast days and holidays with our boys when they were little...but someone I follow (can't remember who) recently said that she wished she could go back ten years and tell herself that Jesus doesn't care about crafts, and doing them is not necessarily going to bring your children closer to Him. Not that there's anything wrong with them, but if getting them done makes you more stressed, it might be better to skip them. (Terrible paraphrasing, but that's the gist.) That made me feel better about never having baked a king cake with the boys, along all the other stuff we could have done and didn't. :) That seem to have turned out okay in spite of us!

      I agree that I could use more like-minded friends who live near me. I guess that's why my kids and their wives are my best friends down here! (And why I love Catholic social media so much!)

    2. *along with all the other stuff
      *They seemed to have turned out okay

  5. I truly enjoy Instagram and FB for seeing where old and newer friends are in their lives. Do I compare? Maybe, but not to a point that makes me sad about my life. Just different joys for different people. FB and Instagram have let me become re-aquainted with old friends, which I am happy for. I think we are pretty real with each other when asked. All that said, I do not have hundreds of FB friends or Instagram people I follow so there is less to compare to.

    1. You are one of the kindest, sweetest, most mentally healthy individuals I have ever met. And I agree--FB and IG have helped me to reconnect with people I'd lost contact with--which has truly been a gift. (Look what those sites have done for US!) So I can't think of them as truly bad for me.

      The people I tend to compare myself with aren't people I actually know and with whom I'm friends--it's more those superstar Catholic social media giants, who seem to have it all together when it comes to matters of Faith and family. But that's really an illusion, anyway; no one really has it totally together. We all have our struggles and our crosses. And I do know that. So I try to focus on what inspires me on social media and ignore that tiny voice that whispers "you're not good enough"--because God would never say that. So it has to be the voice of the evil one, who would like nothing better than to fill every human with doubt and despair!

      Okay, I'm practically writing new blog posts here in the comments--sorry to go on and on!

      God bless you this Lenten season and always!

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