Life is short, and as unique as we all like to think we are, we’re more the same than different. Most people want to be happy, have a social network of some kind (even if it’s a small one), and feel a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, there are many trends that are in direct opposition to long-lasting happiness, and glamorizing stress is absolutely one of them.
Scroll or swipe through pretty much any social media feed and you’ll see lots and lots of posts about how stressed out everyone is, the negative interactions they’ve experienced, and how time-poor they are. You’ll also see lots of comments on those posts about how everyone understands, offers their sincerest compassion, and adds to the list of stresses that they’re personally experiencing as well. This type of piling on, or commiserating, is part of human nature. We all want to add to the conversation, and a sense of social
belonging or competitiveness drives us to experience what others experience. I’m not saying there are no legitimate stresses in life, because there absolutely are, but there are also a lot of optional and fabricated stressors we engage with mindlessly.
We’ve all been in one-upping conversations about how little sleep everyone gets, how jam packed everyone’s schedules are, how crummy our bank accounts are, and the list goes on and on and on. The thing is, I don’t think this type of conversation or thinking makes us any happier. In fact, I think it makes us all a lot less happy, because it makes us think there’s no other way to live or look at life. It makes us feel like we have no control. In reality, whatever we spend the majority of our time thinking about, dwelling on, and talking about, eventually manifests itself internally, and once we accept something inside ourselves, we start to see it everywhere.
The other problem with this type of behavior and thinking, is that it rewards the people who are claiming stress. If I posted on fb, “I’m so stressed out, life is so hard sometimes, just want to cry, ugh!!!” I would get dozens, maybe hundreds of responses. I would get attention telling me how beautiful and wonderful and strong I am! If, on the other hand, I posted, “having a great day! life is awesome!” I might get 3 likes. I know this is true, because I post positive things on fb all the time, and the response level is insanely low compared to negative posts I see on my feed every day.
While the intention behind these actions is totally harmless, what we’re all doing is glamorizing stress, struggle, and pain. We’re giving people incentives to be miserable and shine a spotlight on the ugly side of life.
Sad or Angry or Hurt? Get lots of hugs and support (this keys into that essential human need for a community).
Happy or Satisfied? You are either ignored, or assumed to be magically “lucky”. If you don’t publicly dwell on the tough stuff in your life, you don’t get support.
We do not celebrate resilience, in fact, we almost deny its existence completely, because it denies our “right” to suffering, it removes our ability to play the victim. If you seem to be happy, if you say your life is easy, if you don’t complain, the assumption is that everything is perfect, or that you’re an idiot with rose colored glasses. Of course, no one has a perfect life and everyone has challenges, it’s the way we choose to handle our obstacles that
differs massively. There are people with relatively minor issues who can’t cope with life and can’t move past things that happened to them decades ago. There are also people who have been through horrific atrocities, have adapted well, and would describe themselves as lucky!
I actually think all of this ties closely to the online trend of talking about privilege. We’re encouraged to point out other people’s privileges and focus on our own disadvantages. We talk about how we’ve been wronged or shamed endlessly, rarely taking the same amount of time to discuss the ways in which we’ve been tremendously advantaged. When we spend time focusing on the negative aspects of life, cultivating gratitude becomes difficult, if not impossible. I’m all for talking about privilege, in so far as it extends to talking about our own privileges, because that’s really just an exercise in gratitude! Or, better yet, let’s cut the chit chat and express our acknowledgement of privilege by doing actions that benefit others!
Another trend I notice, in person and online, is glamorizing stress that is totally optional. If the things we’re stressed about are optional (a.k.a. things we could opt out of if we chose to) like taking on extra (unnecessary) work, over-scheduling ourselves, being
competitive with peers to the point of stress, engaging in social drama with friends and family, stewing over past experiences/exchanges, keeping up with the joneses (this can take many different forms), dealing with health problems caused by our own lifestyles, or financial issues due to poor planning/self-control…THEY AREN’T SERIOUS STRESSORS!
I am not saying these types of things can’t cause you to feel very real stress, I am just saying they are not unavoidable life stressors that are worthy of despair. If you want to, you can opt out them, and reminding yourself of that fact changes the way you see life, and gives you the opportunity to put responsibility where it belongs, on yourself!
Think about it in a different way: you wouldn’t buy a shirt, put the shirt on, and then post pictures online talking about how much you hate the shirt, how the shirt makes you miserable, how it itches and hurts, how it affects your body image, how lucky other people are who don’t have that shirt, wondering why you’re always the one who has that shirt, etc. Right? That would be insane! If the shirt was that bad, you just wouldn’t wear it!
Life is unpredictable enough as it is, but if we cannot even cope with the optional stressors in our lives, and we insist on hyper-focusing on every little negative thing that happens, the really serious stuff will destroy us! Why spend more time being stressed and miserable than absolutely necessary? Why dwell on a hurtful comment, a missed opportunity, a negative past experience, when we don’t have to? I think the reason we dwell and gripe, as I’ve said here before, is because we reward negativity and complaining, and we either ignore or punish resiliency.
Being happy is not a crime, and it doesn’t mean your happiness has never been tested. In fact, some of the strongest and most resilient people I know are ridiculously happy and positive! Not piling on when people complain is an option! Enjoying your life, refusing to fuel the “poor me” fire, and broadcasting the bright side feels amazing. You might not get hundreds of likes, or hearts, or up votes, but being countercultural is never without its challenges, and the way you start to change internally will more than make up for the lack of feedback on social media and the blank stares in real life.
Our individual perceptions are our realities, so what we say and think and spend the most time focusing on becomes real. You don’t eat crap and expect to feel great, so don’t think about crap and expect to feel great!
It might feel strange, at first, to talk/type about how great your life is, but that’s ok! I promise it will get easier with time, and before you know it you’ll genuinely feel the things you’re saying, and being positive will feel natural to you.
Gradually, your perspective will change.
In your day to day life you’ll start to notice the person who picks up the litter and puts it in the trash can, instead of the person who littered in the first place. You’ll see beauty in new places, and start to feel like most people are actually pretty ok. Little things like the sun on your face, a stranger’s smile, a caring friend, a cute animal, or a delicious meal will start to consume your thoughts, instead of all the negative stuff that doesn’t deserve a second glance anyway.
Life is short, let’s minimize the stress and pain, and maximize the love and joy! Share your positivity in the comments, and have an awesome day!