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How Ordinary People Survive in an Extraordinary World

Learning social media only shows highlight reels in the game of life

Photography by Bradford Chase; WanderingPixels.com

Scanning through my Facebook feed the other day, I noticed a friend’s family out for the vacation of a lifetime. Smiling faces in selfies, historic scenery in the background. Admittedly, I found myself a little jealous.

Reading on, a college roommate was promoted to vice president in a Fortune 500 company. Feelings of inadequacy crept in.

I admired strangers I’ve never met stuffing gourmet foods from fantastic restaurants into open mouths. I relished their pictures with envy, as I read of great accomplishments and absorbed their tales of astonishing events.

I realized by comparison, my life is bland and boring.

Why am I so ordinary, and how can I compare myself to everyone else living such happy lives, with lady luck smiling brightly over their shoulders?

On Instagram, everything is just as rosy.

Do you ever stand in these same shoes?

Social media paints pictures of people living envious lives, spattered between political banter and bad news from around the globe.

We have no choice but to feel intimidated, even just a little, while viewing the good fortune and great relationships paraded across tiny screens in the palm of our hands.

The world outside our own seems so extraordinary by comparison.

But don’t give up hope just yet. It turns out your life really doesn’t differ much from the people you envy.

Reality finds social media is leading the charge in destroying individual self-confidence, creating new levels of divisiveness, and building higher walls in an otherwise civil society. It is not the great unifier we are lead to believe.

Happiness and self confidence doesn’t make money for Twitter.

We must realize Facebook and Instagram are nothing more than a highlights reel in the game of life; and these highlights aren’t the real story.

How many of your friends post pictures of their family fights, their failed projects, or their latest disappointment?

I’m guessing not a one. Even before Smartphones, we rarely shared these events with our social circles. We can’t expect the ugly truth of daily life to show up routinely in any conversation. We don’t brag about it.

But we look to Facebook and other social platforms to give us information we use for comparison and set ourselves up for disappointment.

And the agenda behind each platform no longer builds any desire for social interaction. Instead, they bring hateful articles, examples of uncivilized behavior, and create long threads of politically charged arguments with exchanges no one would consider if talking face-to-face.

Still, we keep opening the apps and scrolling down the page.

Why?

Science tells us nastiness, negative news, and information tied to bad feelings makes a bigger impact on our brain.

According to Ohio State University psychologist John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., our brain is programmed with a “negativity bias”: the brain responds to unpleasant news differently.

The bias is so automatic we can detect it at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.

In his experiments, Dr. Cacioppo showed pictures known to provoke positive feelings (such as a Ferrari or a pizza), pictures certain to stir up negative feelings (like a mutilated face or a dead cat) and pictures known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity of the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.

The brain, Cacioppo showed, reacts strongly to stimuli it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity with negative stimuli; our attitudes are more influenced by downbeat news than good news.

The struggle presents when we passively accept this negative bias and fail to compete aggressively by seeking positive information.

Social media just rewards our negative bias and strengthens the craving for more bad news or information creating poor self-talk.

To survive, we need to take an active role against this growing cultural pessimism.

Turn it off and I promise you start to feel human again.

Stop comparing yourself to the best part of everyone else’s life and realize they’re really no different from you. They’re just not giving you the opportunity to peek behind the façade Facebook presents as a wonderful life.

Your happiness is not so elusive and you have the power to shine brightly.

Positive strength is woven into the episodes of disappointment we all dwell on but our brains are wired to keep us on the downside of contentment if we give in to the imbalance.

So think happy thoughts. Smile on purpose. Laugh at yourself and the world around you. Don’t let the dark side win.

Because you are extraordinary.

It’s the world that is ordinary; we only need the courage to admit it.

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How Ordinary People Survive in an Extraordinary World
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