10 Ways To Be As Happy In Real Life As You Look On Social Media

"Happiness is not in demand. It's not limited supply."

Social media has revolutionized the way we consume and create culture. Because so much of everyday life takes place online, it has become a one-stop shop for self-expression, connection, and information. Case in point: this article. You're probably reading it on your phone, and you probably discovered it via social media


Don't worry, you're not alone. A 2017 study found that college students spent 262 minutes on their phones each day, but even if you're not in that demographic, chances are your amount of screen time is fairly similar.

While it may seem like everyone spends too much time on social media, it's not the amount of time people spend on social media but how what they saw, read, or did in that time can carry over into the way they feel about themselves in the real world. Even when you know that someone's social media presence is just a "highlight reel" of their real life, their perceived level of happiness can still influence your own, one way or another, beyond the screen. 

So how can social media users make those highlight reels accurately reflect their real lives or, better yet, make their real lives the actual highlight reel? We asked the woman who literally wrote the book on it — Jessica Abo, author of Unfiltered: How to Be As Happy As You Look on Social Media — for her top 10 tips to live your best life online and IRL. 

1. Know your value.

"Other people's posts can constantly make you question your worth, but if you're happy with where you are and what you have, it's very hard for someone else to rock your boat," Abo says. If social media is negatively affecting your self-perceived value, however, it's important to take a step back and remind yourself not to believe everything you see. 

"You're looking at people's highlight reels," she notes. "No one wants people to know that their life is not picture perfect ... [but] if we shared that more I think we would have much stronger connections with the people around us because we'd realize we're all in this together." Take heart in knowing that your value as a person can't be quantified by the number of picture-perfect moments that make it into your "highlight reel," but the simple, everyday moments that make you who you are.

2. Instead of just looking at people's posts, make an effort to engage with them.

Abo challenges social media users to go beyond the "like" by making a conscious effort to create more meaningful connections via thoughtful comments and personal messages. She encourages people to take five seconds (or less!) to send a direct message saying, "Congratulations on that job!" or "I'm really sorry for your loss" or even "I just wanted to let you know I'm happy for you." 

"I think that is so incredibly kind, and I think if we all really engaged more with each other it would be a lot less voyeuristic and a lot more connected because we're actually taking the time to support each other in good times and in bad," she says.

3. Put your social media apps on the back burner.

If you're someone who feels like they're constantly checking their phone, Abo recommends moving your social media apps from your home screen to the third or fourth screen on your phone. Because this takes more time and effort to open these apps, you become aware of what you're doing and can assess whether or not it's really worth it to check Instagram again

4. Take certain apps off your phone completely.

When Abo was pregnant and working on her book, she'd just moved from New York to Los Angeles. She'd also just left her reporting job at New York 1, where she'd worked for 10 years. "[There were] all these amazing changes, and I wasn't going to be a part of them because I was now living in L.A., and I just found it to be very painful for me to go online and see all of my friends getting all these opportunities that I worked toward for 10 years," she recalls. "I needed the time to focus on being a writer and not go down the rabbit hole, [so I] took Facebook off my phone completely." 

Every time she wanted to check the platform, or simply wish someone a happy birthday, she had to pull up the actual Facebook website and type in all her login information. "It was so annoying to do that that I checked Facebook so much less," she explained. So take the Marie Kondo approach to your phone and delete whatever app doesn't bring you joy. You can always download it again when you feel more positive associations toward it. 

5. Create "No Phone Zones."

Another way Abo recommends living "unfiltered" is to create spaces meant for living in the moment. She suggests trying to make the bathroom, the bedroom, or the boardroom "no phone zones" to limit the tendency to scroll mindlessly on social media.  "Whatever you can commit to — in very small steps — to get yourself into the habit of catching yourself every time you aren't thinking about it and just pick up your phone for five minutes," she explains.

6. Opt for interactive "stories" over manicured posts.

One of the simplest ways to live life more unfiltered is to post pictures and videos that are just that — unfiltered. In today's social media landscape, that means opting for Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook "stories" that, due to their impermeability, can be a more authentic reflection of your life and more open to interaction. 

"You're not able to manicure the content in a story the same way as you can in a post," Abo notes. "With a picture, it's very one-dimensional, and I think a story's very three-dimensional in that people get to feel like they are where you are, with you." 

7. Start your day without checking your phone.

Many people start their day looking at their phone, especially if it doubles as an alarm clock. An issue only occurs, Abo explains, "If you're someone who checks your phone before you've even brushed your teeth, and by the time you get to your toothbrush, you're in a bad mood." 

To unplug your morning routine, she suggests beginning with a practice of gratitude, working out, or listening to music. "Start your day in another way before you touch your phone and see if that helps you," she adds.  

8. Put your phone on airplane mode or "Do Not Disturb."

In a study conducted by Larry Rosen, professor emeritus and past chair of the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills, he learned that half the time people unlocked their phone to check social media, it was because they received an alert. "The other half of the time, there wasn't an update or alert, which means they had a slow accumulation of chemicals such as cortisol or adrenaline that signaled anxiety," he told Abo in Unfiltered. "Your brain starts filling in with chemicals saying, 'Someone may have posted; you should check in,' and when that reaches a critical level, people act on it and go back to their phones." 

To help retrain your brain and reduce this technology-induced anxiety, Abo recommends putting your phone on airplane mode or "Do Not Disturb" so there's no chance you'll be bombarded by alerts — real or imaginary. "The phantom buzz is a real thing," Abo says. "I think being mindful that these sort of things are happening to you and making you catch that you're checking your phone so much may make you then ask yourself, 'Why am I checking my phone in this moment? Is there something else I could be doing with my time?' " Try it for a day and see how much you can accomplish in all the time you saved.

9. Share what isn't pictured.

When Abo was a television reporter for New York 1, she "lived under this guise" where she always needed her hair and makeup to be perfect wherever she went. "I felt like I had to present myself as such on camera and off camera because even when I was at a dinner party, I still represented my newsroom or journalism as a whole. I took it so seriously," she recalls. "And then when I did a series about writing this book while pregnant, there were days I didn't shower, and I'd still take out the phone and vlog … and [now] I watch these videos back, that is as real as it gets. I think that if people shared that more we could all relate to each other a bit more." 

To practice what she preaches, Abo writes "Pictured" and "Not Pictured" beneath each Instagram post. For example, she recently captioned a selfie, "Pictured: Me at Irving Farm coffee. Not Pictured: Being up with Alexa [her daughter] from 2-5 this morning and allll of the coffee dates I had here before I met the love of my life." Though she's happy to see people get more real on social media with makeup-free posts, she says, "I hope that people go beyond the no makeup posts and start showing what we may not be seeing behind the scenes because that's the part that people can really relate to and support one another through." 

10. Remember that "happiness is not a pie."

"Just because you see someone get engaged, have a baby, get promoted, or buy a house doesn't mean that there is now a little less happiness in the world for you," Abo says. "Happiness is not in demand. It's not limited supply." If seeing someone else's happy posts on social media tends to make you unhappy, Abo recommends making necessary tweaks to create more of your own happiness, as she did by taking Facebook off her phone. That simple change helped Abo redirect that negative energy into the positive pursuits of writing her book and starting her family. 

"To help yourself not compare yourself to others, you have to stay in your own lane," she explains. "And the only way you can do that is if you know that you're doing the work you need to do to make the changes you want in your life to take back your happiness." She believes that work starts with embracing the fact that every single person is a work in progress and taking ownership of whatever category in your life needs the most time and attention to develop. Then it's time to get busy reinvesting in yourself. "Because if you're busy working on you … you don't have time to compare yourself to anyone," she says.

Those interested in learning more of Abo's psychologist-approved tips and tricks can check out Unfiltered: How to Be As Happy In Real Life As You Look on Social Media and participate in the #LiveUnfiltered social media campaign.

Cover image: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com


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