Share the good

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Social media is a strange creature. Most people are bright and shiny on social media. They share photos of their kids or cats, and sometimes both at the same time. They talk about all the good things happening in their life, from receiving a promotion at work to ordering a really solid steak on date night. Pictures usually accompany these posts, so you get to see these happy people smiling with their extraordinary New York strip.

When you're happy, you're happy for them. When you're not, your emotions can be a little more mixed. That's been my experience, at least. I don't want to speak for anybody, but I think it's fair to say social media places a surprising amount of pressure on those who use it. Quite literally, I want to be liked on social media. I want people to respond to my posts with emojis and comment about how cute my cat is.

That means I post the things I believe will be likable. I'm not going to share that Gideon and I got into a big fight or that wedding planning is stressing me out more than I ever could have imagined. I especially avoid sharing whatever triggered my anxiety attack that day, because mental health problems aren't really something you brag about. That's not the kind of thing people like, and I don't think it's the kind of thing they want to read, either.

I've had a few acquaintances on social media who do share all the sordid details of their lives. One of them updates every time her husband cheats on her, as if it's appropriate to share something that personal with complete strangers online. It takes me back to the time my mom first let me use her laptop. She told me I shouldn't tell anyone my name or age online, that those things need to be private. "You don't have to share everything," she said.

I'm guessing she wasn't the only mom to say this. That lesson still sticks with me, especially now that my personal information is attached to what I post online. Of course I'm not going to complain about all the terrible things in the world on my Facebook page. The way you present yourself on social media is the way people see you. I don't know about you, but I'm trying to avoid negativity in as many aspects of my life as possible. That starts with sharing the good things.

A year or so ago, one of my friends sent me a message saying she enjoyed my column that week. She wanted to tell me that, she said, because people don't share the good things nearly as much as they should. That struck me to be true and also a little different from the way I had been approaching social media (and life in general). I wasn't complaining on Facebook, but I certainly didn't post happy things to make other people happy.

Before then, I got a little annoyed by people who would always share positive messages. The people who never had a negative thing to say online came across to me as fake. I remember reading a post someone shared about a really great lunch they had and scoffing loudly. "Does this person ever have a bad day?" I asked Gideon.

Now I know the answer to that question is a resounding "yes." We all have bad days. If you're anything like me, you come home grumpy sometimes and tell your cat to get the wet food himself. None of us are immune to negative experiences, but that doesn't mean we have to share negativity. If you're having a truly bad day, the last thing you want to read is how someone got a flat tire on their way to a job they hate.

But a photo of a cat walking on his hind legs might make you smile, maybe for the first time that day. That's more than enough reason to share the good things, online and in real life, as often as you can.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com