The following essay is what was published in the 2018 editions of Minnesota’s Emerging Writers: A Nonfiction Anthology and America’s Emerging Writers: A Nonfiction Anthology. I felt that it would now be appropriate to share the piece since I am posting personal blogs . I hope you enjoy it and pick up a copy of either anthology to own not only my essay, but those of my fellow emerging writers in Minnesota and around the United States.
Why does everyone look so happy? This is a question that I ask myself often and it finally has bugged me enough to try and answer. Why does everyone look so happy? I am primarily talking about social media, and I believe the obvious answer is that we are able to edit our lives down into 280 characters or 6-second videos that are bite sized attempts at escape from the dreary and weary troubles which wear us down on a daily basis.
The inherent properties of social media mean we don’t need to have original thoughts because we can share and repost content created by someone else. I don’t mean to say this as something strictly negative, especially because I have done so as well. I think it speaks to the human condition of sharing our lives; the comfort in knowing that yes, things are bad for me right now, but they are probably bad for someone else too. This solidarity through suffering seems to be one of the main facets of why we regurgitate and share the things we see on the Internet and various other forms of media.
But why does everyone look so happy? Are we smiling only when the camera is pointed at us? Do we create situations or go to events simply for the photo opportunity? If I go out to dinner with friends or family, why do I feel like I have to take pictures and post about it as soon as possible? Who am I trying to impress? It clearly isn’t those I am with in person since I took the time to post about the moment rather than thriving in it.
Why does everyone look so damn happy? Are we kidding ourselves? Does the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality permeate the underlying motivation in our daily activities? Much like photography and film, which are two prevalent types of media on the Internet, what we decide to post and share goes through a process of elimination and editing. I can choose to write a status that would be read how it would be heard if I had said it aloud, but I would be doing that on purpose.
For example, um, if I decided to put vocalized pause and, uh, ellipses… my apprehension becomes apparent because I have crafted the sentence in such a way as to convince you of how difficult it is to say what I want.
I have calculated and chosen what to show you in my sentence and, through this, you don’t get an honest picture of what I am feeling. I can write to tone and inflection, I can change my vocabulary to increase the verisimilitude and wax poetic in order to belittle and condescend if I so wish. I can choose whether or not to tell you that I checked the definition of verisimilitude to ensure that I was using it correctly.
The Internet gifts us with precious seconds or minutes in order to bolster our defenses in an argument, or to google a snippet of poetry or song lyrics to better caption an Instagram post. We have control over what we show others and often that control is relinquished due to the fact that many people don’t often think before they post. Perhaps this is something that I have come across more since starting my own blog; I must be cognizant of my intentions as a writer and the way in which I use my voice, because it is surely not something that was in the forefront of my mind in the last nine or so years that I have had a Facebook account.
So the question is no longer, why does everyone look so happy; the question is, if everyone is able to look so happy, why can’t I? I have watched a few TED talks that cover happiness and self-fulfillment, and from what I have gathered, happiness is something that we must each qualify for ourselves. Now, I realize this might sound a bit like common sense, but I’m not sure that it is routinely thought of as such. When we think about what would make us happy, we generally dream of a better car, a bigger house, the love of someone else, the life of someone else. If only I could make more money, if only I could talk to that guy or girl, if only I could be discovered by a talent agent. We leave so much of this up to circumstance; we blame not ourselves, but the world around us for our lack of contentment in our search for happiness.
I include myself in this and it has taken more than a few harsh, but honest, words from friends and family to make me realize this truth. I am lucky to have such wonderful and strange bedfellows in my life, and their contentment with themselves comes at a different cost than mine. In my family, we talk about picking our battles, and though some may compare it to an ostrich sticking their head in the sand when frightened, I believe that focusing on what is right in front of me rather than all of the injustice in the world will help retain my sanity.
What can I change about my life to make it better for myself and those wrapped up in it? Maybe this means I don’t have intimate knowledge about certain social issues, and though solidarity and empathy are important to me, I also know that I cannot take on the weight of everyone else’s suffering. Perhaps that is the secret known to everyone smiling in those photographs; they are concerned simply with the moment and those around them. We can only change what is in our power to control, and it is through exercising this agency that we can fake the smiles, focus on those around us, and perhaps one day feel the pull of our cheek muscles in genuine glee.