Social media lights a fire under envy

Social media has created a world in which everyone seems to be living perfect, struggle-free lives — but some people don’t like that. Is there any way for people to curb their resentment?
We live
in an age of envy. Whether it’s holiday envy, house envy or mum-life envy, psychologists and life coaches say social media is increasingly feeding resentment.
Tauranga psychologist Kate Ferris says she is seeing more and more envy in her consulting room, from people who want to keep up with the Joneses, “including the Joneses themselves”.Our use of platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat compound “insatiable wanting”, and everyone is accessible for comparison.As humans, we are wired to want more because our ancestors lived lives of scarcity, but this has become problematic in modern times, Ferris says.“Many of us can meet our basic needs, yet we continue to seek luxurious non-essentials, and the goalposts of what a good life looks like keep moving.”Social media means we are constantly surveilling ourselves and others and feeding on a diet of curated reality.Social media expert and influencer Tash Meys, former owner of the social media marketing agency and its namesake podcast Ace the Gram, says Instagram is still the most “highlight-reel-oriented” social media platform so it is often the “villain” in comparison culture.AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.“I have noticed that a lot of the people who are triggered by content on Instagram — specifically posted by Instagram influencers — are the ones struggling with something in their own lives,” she says.“The illusion that anyone might have a perfect life or endless money can be hard for someone who might be struggling.”In Meys’ opinion, TikTok and Snapchat are the more casual, uncurated social apps, so some influencers have different personas or share different content between their Instagram and TikTok accounts.Facebook, on the other hand, is being increasingly used for business.Tash Meys says influencers posting “a perfect life or endless money” can be triggering for people who are struggling. Photo / Supplied Meys believes you can create your social media environment by being intentional about the accounts you choose to follow, but in saying that, cautions if you are experiencing a “mental health episode” and want to take a break from social media, “I’d probably start with taking a break from Instagram”.However, both she and Mount Maunganui influencer Hannah Mellsop say some positives go with Instagram too.Mellsop, who has nearly 20,000 followers on the platform, grew her following over 10 years. Six of those years she documented the setup and running of her successful business Real Rad Food, which she’s since sold.She now shares lifestyle content, including documenting her life as a new mum to daughter Winnie, 5 months.AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.She’s not experienced “trolling” but was unfollowed by an acquaintance who told her that her achievements made her feel inferior, which, while not malicious, was “confronting”.“If you’re not finding value, then it’s up to you to unfollow those people so you’re not getting those feelings of envy,” Mellsop says.She enjoys creating content, aims to help and inspire her followers and has made online friends, which has been comforting as a stay-at-home mum.“To me, [social media] becomes an issue when people are sharing false narratives or false truths of their lives,” she says.Influencer Hannah Mellsop and her daughter Winnie. Mellsop was unfollowed on social media by an acquaintance who told her that her achievements made her feel inferior. Photo / Emma Reynolds Photography Bay of Plenty life coach Cassandra Hogan, of Fontein Coaching, says comparisons “come through massively” with her clients but agrees viewers are in control.Some of her clients caught up in comparison have recently chosen to take a break from social media.In doing so, they felt authentic to themselves and their businesses without getting caught up with what other people were doing.Alternatively, rather than deleting social media, Hogan suggests turning notifications off. There are also productivity apps, such as Forest, that track your time on social media.In the Forest app, you can plant a cedar or an oak and watch it grow while you put your focus elsewhere.We could also try to change the way we habitually use social media.Ferris says our previous generations had clearer social roles and limited opportunities for lifestyle mobility, meaning they were generally more accepting of their circumstances.“Maybe we compared ourselves with our neighbours — but that’s where it ended,” she says.Many people crave validation and nowadays turn to their phones to provide it.While most know the content they absorb is not always a reflection of reality, our beliefs, habits and neurochemistry are powerful.One example she gives is motherhood.Even Ferris, a mum of one who considers herself an “ardent feminist and fairly grounded”, gets a pang of envy when she sees a “perfectly quaffed mum in her stunning home with her dazzling children”.“My brain releases cortisol and adrenalin, even though most of me knows that the portrayal of motherhood I have just seen is unrealistic and unsustainable and that she probably has a pile of dirty laundry just out of frame.“It is important to unpack what is really going on for me, otherwise I exist on autopilot and that insidious little belief that I am lacking might grow and limit my capacity to fairly appraise myself as a mum,” she says.Even psychologist Kate Ferris has felt envy while looking at social media, particularly when it comes to motherhood. Photo / Supplied Brains get a dopamine (happy hormone) hit when we engage with social platforms, and the hit gets bigger if you get a like, retweet or find yourself on the top of a best friends list on Snapchat, reinforcing the behaviour.For some individuals, this can develop into dependence on external validation, low resilience and low self-esteem, Ferris says.However, if you are the one left feeling envious, what can you do?Ferris says to think of what story you are telling yourself about the particular situation, and whether you want to continue to subscribe to it or seek to edit it.Envy can be constructive because it can indicate where we are feeling a lack and inspire us to do something about it. The key is figuring out whether the perceived lack is valid.“If I am pining over Kim Kardashian’s bottom — it’s not,” she says.Furthermore, she suggests conscious action. That means unfollowing accounts that make you feel “rubbish” and resisting the urge to use filter tools for your posts.She also advises being the change that you want to see. Everything we do is “value laden” so if you aren’t intentional about the content you post and consume, you may be part of the problem by perpetuating a “false persona”.“We shouldn’t fall victim to paralysis by analysis either — just be aware and ask yourself honestly, ‘Why am I posting this? What message am I hoping to put out into the world? How might others receive it? Is this ultimately how I want to show up in this online space?’,” she says.“With that insight, you have more choice around whether you post it, or how you present yourself more broadly through the content you share.”Carly Gibbs is a weekend magazine writer for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post and has been a journalist for two decades. She is a former news and feature writer, for which she’s been both an award finalist and winner.

Recommended For You