For generations, “keeping up with the Joneses” has been a national pastime. Because Americans seem to be naturally competitive, many of us feel the need to make sure we measure up to our peers. In the new age of social media our desire to see how we measure up to others has become much easier, but is the version of the Joneses we see an accurate one?
A recent study of 2,000 social media users had some interesting results that might make you feel better about your own life. Only 18% of those surveyed said their Facebook and Twitter posts display an accurate representation of their lives. That means 82% of what you think is reality on social media is at least, to some extent, a fabrication of real life.1
What this says to me is that, in addition to the unrealistic depictions of life we receive from the media, we must now view what is portrayed by our friends and family with a skeptical eye.
At first, it may be depressing to discover that people only want to post the best of their life. Who doesn’t? But, it can be a relief as well. Think about it, who hasn’t seen a Facebook post of a friend’s recent trip to some tropical island and we think, “wow, I wish I had the time and money to do that. I must be doing something wrong.” What doesn’t get posted are the status updates of that same couple each time they have a fight about money. We also don’t hear about how many nights they go to sleep crying because they don’t know how they’re going to dig themselves out of all the credit card debt they’ve accrued.
It’s difficult to look at others, with only a social media perception, and not experience pangs of jealousy or covet what they have. In fact, a recent study by “Computers in Human Behavior” found that the more a person interacts with social media the more likely they are to suffer from depression and anxiety. The study found that a large reason for this depression is a condition they call “social media envy.” It is caused by people feeling like their own life does not meet the standards of others; i.e. the Joneses.2 I have experienced this first hand while providing financial counseling to those whose primary reason for spending was to impress others.
My intention in writing this article is not to get you off social media. Let’s face it, social media is here to stay, but let’s be smart in how we perceive what we see. Starting with recognizing that all people have emotional highs and lows, good times and bad. You just may not hear about it if the only setting in which you interact with them is a Facebook wall.
If you find yourself overspending just to keep up with the “social media Joneses”, you might want to reconsider your strategy. I have found that those who have learned to be content with who they are, and what they have, are the people who have lives others are truly envious of.