What’s Not To ‘Like’: Jealousy, Desire, and Social Media

Better is one’s own dharma, though imperfectly carried out, than the dharma of another acted out perfectly.
—Bhagavad Gita

From my hilltop home office, ideal for secluded writing time, I see birds at the feeder and late winter flakes. Though the chickadees seem friendly enough, I eventually crave human interaction. I turn to the dreaded time waster that is Facebook.

Social media sites can be informative and effective. In the time it would take me to post one flyer, I can invite 100 people to a workshop or event. For a self-employed person, this is handy. And, in the right frame of mind, it’s heartening to see what long-distance friends are up to.

I’m more likely to sign in when lonely or bored (the wrong frame of mind). I want to be distracted from myself, which inevitably pulls me in an uncomfortable direction. There is a jelly-like feeling in my gut; I am no longer grounded. Self-judgment ensues.

Yoga teachers encourage us to forego comparisons. As the Bhagavad Gita suggests, I can listen to my own calling and perform it imperfectly. But on Facebook, I see the “feet on sun lounger” post, with brilliant sea beyond, when I’ve just shoveled snow. I see the writer I admire with a stellar review in the New York Times. I feel a clench inside: Am I doing enough? Am I clever enough? Why am I not barefoot on the beach with a best-selling book to my name?

Abstaining from social media would be the healthy option, as many studies note. In one, conducted by the Happiness Research Institute, participants who refrained for a week found their “happiness rating” increased. According to the study, they were “more decisive and enthusiastic and less worried, lonely, and stressed compared to those who remained on Facebook.”

If I scroll long enough, I’ll come across a friend doing just this. “Goodbye,” she posts, tossing her bottle into the murky e-waters. I should do that, I think, and keep scrolling. I crave another dopamine hit, a small burst of pleasure to counteract the feeling of envy about the quitter’s courage. (Animal videos work well, specifically those featuring pandas or elephants.) Recent research describes dopamine as activating “seeking behavior”—causing us to desire and search. The social media vortex is the perfect place to fall into an endless dopamine loop.

I want to be more enlightened than this. I want to move beyond comparisons that lead to jealousy, an unflattering attribute. I know it’s an indicator; something brews beneath. I could look at social media exposure as a chance to test this.

Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way, writes, “Jealousy is a map … [It] is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able to get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it. At its root, jealousy is a stingy emotion. It doesn’t allow for … abundance and multiplicity.”

Julia suggests making a simple list in order to locate 1) the precise form of envy, 2) why it feels like a burden, and 3) what action can be taken to address it. “When jealousy bites, like a snakebite it requires an immediate antidote,” she writes.

Who, why, what. Here’s one of mine. 1) She plays guitar so well.  2) I want to play guitar.  3) I can take those guitar lessons I’ve been postponing.

Of course! Facebook discomfort is rooted in desire. Rather than berate myself for negative thinking, I can focus on the source of uneasiness and devise a strategy. The initial disconnect I feel online can lead to some degree of self-awareness. I can begin to understand why the monster rears its head.

Green is the color of envy, but it’s also the color of renewal.  If I must log in, I can allow social media to be a mirror: Here’s what I truly want. And when hungry for dialogue during solitary moments, I can always turn to a novel—perhaps the friend’s book I was just reading about.

Lara Tupper is a novelist, performer, and teacher with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, ReverbNation, and LinkedIn. (As of this writing, she has not signed up for Instagram.) laratupper.com

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