Sunday, 1 May 2016

Are Others Happier?

Are Others Happier?

Have you ever wondered or felt that others are so much happier and more satisfied in their life than you are?

We are surrounded by happy, nonchalant faces every day and almost every minute of our lives:

Smiling and laughing characters on TV, on the covers and ads of numerous magazines and newspapers, as well as in countless ads and commercials on the internet.

It seems like these people are perfectly cheerful and have not a care in the world.

In addition to that, the people that you meet at events and parties seem to all be perfectly happy and satisfied with their exciting lives.

Even random strangers that you pass by daily on the streets are mostly wearing very content expressions.

And then there’s the social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. The information about your friends and acquaintances that you find there, be it visual like photos or written in the form of a status update or a note will also with great likelihood be a positive  or exciting one.

In this kind of environment it is very difficult not to feel inadequate: that you are, for some reason, much less happy and less fortunate in your life than everybody else, especially at times when your own mood or reality does not match that which you encounter all around you in the form of smiles and cheerful Instagram photos. And that, unfortunately, happens more often than most of us would have liked! 

However, fortunately or not, in the majority of cases this appearance of perpetual happiness around us does not accurately reflect the reality at all!

That may be obvious in the case with ads and commercials.
The models in them are not truly happy (not to the extent that they are trying to portray anyway); they posed oftentimes for an exhausting number of hours to eventually produce that “genuinely happy” expression on their face that the editor would then use in her magazine add.

However, on the subconscious level, this fact does not matter to us. We see the enactment of being “truly happy” by a given person, and we subconsciously perceive him or her as actually being this happy!

But what about real people, our friends and acquaintances who we see at parties and other social gatherings and the strangers who we see on the streets every day?
Obviously they are not posing for anything ...

Or are they?

Research has proven that at parties and celebrations and even just casual meetings over coffee, people tend to conceal any negative emotions they may be experiencing!  
People either naturally forget the problems and difficulties that they are having in their life for the time that they are in a social situation especially in the one where one is supposed to have fun or, if that is not possible, they forcibly repress these thoughts and feelings, so the facial expressions and behaviours that indicate to others the presence of these negative feelings in a person also disappear from everyone’s sight.
Besides, even if some people do not personally have a problem with sharing what truly is on their mind, the society itself seems to disapprove of this kind of honesty.
Social norms regarding politeness expect you to wear a smile and to have a pleasant, happy tone of voice at all times when you are around people.

On the surface, that seems to be a good idea, after all, it feels nicer to address a smiling and amicable person than a gloomy or angry one.

But the reality seems much more ambivalent than this.

Seeing only happy, smiling faces all around us makes us somewhat emotionally disconnected from everyone else around, especially when our own emotions and thoughts do not match the perceived satisfied content of others.

In fact, many suicides, especially among young teenagers (whose emotional worlds are much less stable and more prone to significant shifts and swings of the mood than those of adults), which we hear about every once in a while could be prevented if we were more genuine in our expression of our real feelings and emotions, and if we made it clear that negative emotions are not rare or abnormal but are in fact, as unfortunate as it is, an inevitable and a regularly-occurring part of life, and that these teenagers are not alone in their less-than-perfectly-happy mood.

An experiment was performed by Social Psychology Bulletin, where young adults were asked to rate the amount of positive events and emotions that they thought their peers experienced daily.  The results showed that the majority of us tend to greatly overestimate the amount of positive events and emotions that happen to others on a daily and weekly basis.

And social networking sites do not in any way help improve the accuracy of our judgement!
Actually, it was found in a study at Stanford University, that the more time a person spends on Facebook, the less happy he or she becomes!
People are very selective about what they post and share with others on their social media profiles. They want to preserve a good pubic image and tend not to share anything that could potentially make a less then positive impression of them and their life on other users.

So, in the overwhelming majority of cases they will never share how bored or sad they feel when they do, but will almost certainly share it in an update whenever anything good or exciting comes about into their life! 

So, scrolling through an endless stream of happy and exciting updates when you yourself are just alone at home and nothing exceptional is happening certainly has the potential to make you feel sad, missing out in life, inadequate, and, as a result, fairly unhappy.

Whenever this happens, consider how many friends you have on Facebook and how often each individual one of them shares something new and exciting. It is one thing too look at a few hundred people as a whole, and a whole different thing to consider each person individually!

As well, look at your own updates. How many times have you “honestly and openly” shared any of the negative feelings and events in your life?

So, after all, the “Grass is always greener on the other side” adage does have a lot of truth to it! No wonder it has survived through many centuries! 

I myself had a few first-hand experience with being influenced by seemingly thoroughly positive lives of others! In my early teens especially, I had a chance to live for a few weeks with a few of my friends whose daily lives I perceived to be much more pleasant and exciting than my own, and thus to experience their true day-to-day life as it was.
And I can honestly say that, every time I returned back home from living with one of such friends I did so with joy and pleasure! The time that I spent living with them made me appreciate just how much “like a king” I lived. I could definitely affirm after living with them for instance, that none of my friends I previously envied had experienced the kind of freedom from all kinds of daily chores that I did, sitting at my computer or TV and occasionally demanding that some tea or coffee be brought into my room! :)
--But that did not prevent me in the past from being almost always dissatisfied and constantly imagining how much better and nicer the life of others must be!

But anyway, here is another useful point to remember: A life is mostly the same basic daily routine for everyone, and the reality is that it is almost impossible to make every single day truly exciting.
No one lives in a perpetually happy, exciting and care-free near-fantasy world, no matter how hard they are trying to make it out to look like the do. (In fact the relationship between trying to create an appearance of a perfect life, and the real quality of the life of that person is usually an inverse one!)
Imagining that others are happier however is not an innocent misconception. It has the potential to, and often does, make you feel dissatisfied with your reality and makes you react to the inevitable drawbacks of life much more strongly, so the level of happiness and content that you experienced initially plummets even further.

So what can you do with all this knowledge.
It may take practice and dedication, but keep reminding yourself of that “grass is always greener-“-adage. As well, try to recount specific examples from your own life experience when this adage proved very true, whenever you feel like you are missing out and others have it all.  

But forgetting that and occasionally falling back into the pattern of jealousy and self-disapproval is almost inevitable, and it is okay, just as long as you eventually remember what you now know and analyze the experience objectively! 

In the end, I do want to point out once again that, in my opinion, the society (especially the North American one, known for its excessive superficiality in relationships), could greatly benefit from some degree of extra sincerity and openness in regards to the expression of true feelings and emotions, especially the inevitable negative ones that all people without exception experience regularly in their daily lives.
It is much wiser to acknowledge, embrace and express the reality that negative emotions do exist and that they are inevitable for everyone, rather than meticulously and carefully hide it, almost as though believing that ignoring this fact will make it disappear. It will not.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elena,
    Are you based in Ottawa? Have you done any acting before?
    I make an Ottawa Based webseries called Spellfury that has over 6 Million Views online
    and aired Nationally in Canada on Global TV. We just got back from LA where our show was
    a 2013 official selection of the Hollywood Festival "Hollyweb".
    Would you be interested in doing a shoot with us for the show? You'd be a sexy warrior
    with a sword. You can e-mail me at
    Travis Gordon