You don't have to fake it till you make it. Here's how to be authentically happy—and use social media to get there.
Photo: Cultura RM Exclusive / Christin Rose / Getty Images
It's no secret that scrolling through Instagram can make you envious—and take a negative toll on your mental health. In fact, a study published last year found that Instagram is the worst social media platform for your mental health. (Researchers attribute it to the "compare and despair" principle—you compare your own sometimes shaky sense of body positivity to Iskra Lawrence's fearless activism, for example, and then despair about why you can't be that comfortable with your own body.) As a result, you work overtime to make your Insta life look as perfect as everyone else's—let's be real, everyone's doing it to a certain degree. But according to Jessica Abo, author of Unfiltered: How to Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, it doesn't have to be this way.
Abo, a journalist, speaker, and author, got interested in the idea of how social media impacts happiness when she discovered that people thought she was one of those people living an Insta-perfect life. "People would always comment on how it looked like I was living the most picture-perfect amazing life, because they saw me covering fashion week one day and then hopping on a plane and giving a speech the next day," she says.
For a minute, that kind of praise can be flattering, but Abo also found it frustrating. Nobody's life is perfect (duh) and trying to live up to the illusion that it is? Talk about pressure. (Besides, as numerous influencers have pointed out, most of those images are BS anyway.)
Trying to keep up with the look-at-my-perfect-life crowd has been tied to negative mental health impacts numerous times—one 2017 report from the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K. found that rates of anxiety and depression have spiked since the advent of social media.
"I really wanted to start building a conversation in every single aspect of my life about how being your authentic self—and not picture-perfect—is not only okay but it's what's actually real," says Abo. That meant posting more unfiltered moments—like the time she injured her shoulder while struggling into Spanx before a wedding.
It's not just about being #real, as Abo found, these authentic conversations can make you feel relieved—and way happier than being stuck in a weird cycle of envy. Plus, she says when someone else shares something they're struggling with, she no longer feels alone in her own difficulties.
That attitude can be contagious. "If we start sharing more honest content in our own feed, perhaps there will be this great ripple effect where instead of people just sharing these highlight reels, they'll share what's really happening in their day."
How to Be As Happy IRL As You Look On Social Media
Social media can be used for good. (To make it easier, Instagram just announced new features designed to filter out haters and encourage kindness.) Here's how to use your social media habit to help make you as happy as you look on your feed.
1. First, know that you don't have to bare it all.
"My advice to anyone trying to live a more unfiltered life is not to feel like you have to share every little detail of your personal life," says Abo. Some people (think Lena Dunham) are totally okay with sharing everything, but you don't have to in order to be more authentic on social media.
Only post what you're comfortable with. Maybe that's sharing a photo of books piled up on your nightstand that you haven't actually read yet instead of your perfectly color-coordinated bookshelf. Or captioning your gorgeous açaí bowl with what's not pictured (like the total disaster zone you left in your kitchen prepping it). Or maybe it's posting one of the 25 "meh" selfies you took before finally getting a decent one.
"Being able to show the real moments of life that aren't perfectly orchestrated can open up the conversation for a lot of people," says Abo. "It gives you a more meaningful way to connect." (Related: "Unguarded and Unbothered" Is Our Favorite New Instagram Movement)
2. Turn envy into motivation.
That twinge of envy you feel when you see an epic finish line photo from a friend's marathon can actually be a good thing, says Abo. "If you're finding you're feeling triggered by someone else's post, that's a wonderful opportunity—you can use that as a way to make you grow and be a better person," she explains. (Related: Before-and-After Photos Are the #1 Thing That Inspires People to Lose Weight)
Translation: Use it as motivation to start training for your own race.
3. Avoid too many social media distractions.
Recently, a lot of celebrities have been opening up about taking a hiatus from social media for mental health reasons. (Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello and Gigi Hadid have all detoxed from bad social media habits.) If you feel like scrolling is making you anxious, it's not a bad idea.
Abo suggests moving the apps from your home screen deeper into your phone—that way they're not the first thing you see when you unlock your screen. "And turn off your notifications so you're not distracted every time someone comments on something," she adds. Less time checking up on every like means more time to build relationships with people IRL.