Many of us default to whingeing about our personal lives on facebook or twitter:
- “ugh! crawling through peak hour traffic, why do I do this to myself?”
- “sideswiped by 2 drivers on my ride today”
- “bills, bills, and more bills”
- “loud music blasting from next door at 3am, and now I have to get up and go to work”
- “so tired today I can barely see straight”
… and on and on… Posting these complaints is easy, yet somehow appreciating the good stuff seems mawkish and faintly embarrassing.
Some time ago we introduced the Thankful Thing at our dinner table, to remind us of all the things we have to be thankful for – even on the bad days. It was a kind of antidote to all those first world problems that can seem overwhelming at times. And all the real problems that are nonetheless not the whole story of our lives. These days we have the thankful book, rather than scraps of paper, and we date the pages so that we can look back to a particular time, or just flick through and see what we appreciated on a random day.
It’s lovely to do, and always raises our spirits. It’s wonderful to look back on and remember those happy moments, but I do wish we did it more often. When you’re tired and grumpy, it can be hard to summon the energy to prioritise the Thankful Thing.
Sometimes I am thankful on facebook. It’s too easy to whine and grump about things that annoy or frustrate me, but I don’t want that to be the face I always turn to the world. I also don’t want them to be the things I focus on. I am exceptionally fortunate. I have amazing friends, a wonderful home life, and a job that is both thrilling and satisfying. Yet it’s still all too easy to slump in my chair and whine about all the things that aren’t perfect.
So I sometimes post something like this: “Today I am thankful for my students, past and present, who make my working life such a joy, and who have become part of my life in ways I could never have anticipated. I am thankful for my 11 year old, who has reached an age where we can talk and share on a level that is intensely satisfying. (Which is not to say we don’t scream and throw things at other times!) I am thankful for my bright, chirpy, intensely empathic miss 7. And I am deeply thankful for the night away I had with my beloved on Friday night, and to his parents for making it possible.”
These statuses tend to get lots of likes, yet I feel faintly uneasy posting them. It’s as though I am boasting, or being overly sentimental. And although my friends are quick to hit like, I don’t see it catching on. There isn’t a rash of thankful things spreading through my news feed, but sometimes it seems as though there’s an awful lot of complaints. And I get that – it’s great to get sympathy by posting about whatever is currently bugging you. I often find myself composing those updates in my head when something – or someone – gets on my nerves.
But I fear that this kind of social media usage is leading us to stress the negative, and focus on our irritations. Being publicly thankful is hard. It makes me feel a bit soppy, and a bit exposed and vulnerable. But I think it also helps me focus on the positives, rather than reinforcing the irritation of my gripe about politics, or environmental damage, or work frustrations.
Facebook recently got a lot of publicity when they announced that they had tampered with people’s news feeds, showing more positive or more negative statuses to see if it changed people’s posting habits. Lo and behold they found that both positive and negative statuses were contagious. The more negative updates you see, the more negative your own will be. And the same for positive.
Every time someone responds to a status I click to see which one it was, and every time I do that I get a small surge of the feelings associated with that status. So maybe it’s time we started tampering with our own status updates. Maybe we can emotionally manipulate ourselves byletting those frustrations drift away, rather than pinning them to our news feeds.
Goodness knows there’s enough to be frustrated and grumpy about in our daily lives. But there’s a lot to appreciate, too, and that’s really something to be grateful for.