Social media is our generation's greatest addiction. Not only are we addicted to the mindless minutiae of repeatedly checking our accounts, but we also seem to be increasingly measuring our own happiness by what others are posting on our news feeds.
I noticed this in my own life a few days ago.
I've never been a car guy. Never had much interest in them and never felt compelled to spend a lot of money on them. But when I logged onto Facebook and saw that someone I know just bought a new Audi A8, I immediately jumped down a rabbit hole of jealousy and curiosity.
How much did this A8 cost? Was it brand new? How much money does so-and-so make? Did they just get an inheritance? Why don't I have a new A8?
All these questions immediately rushed my mind, and I don't even like cars! I can't imagine my reaction if it had been something I really wanted. The truth is none of those questions matter. My reaction should have been "Good for so-and-so." His buying a new $90,000 (I looked it up) car has zero effect on me.
Having no reaction is exponentially harder in today's world of social media. We know, in real-time, every cool, fun and expensive thing our friends and family are doing. What we don't know is everything else. How long did they they save for that trip? How much debt are they in because of that new pool? How big of a priority was that renovation to them?
Most of the time, these answers lie somewhere in between social media updates. But we tend to forget that. We only obsess over what we see. All too often we make assumptions about how our lives compare to others, and the only evidence we have is their one Instagram post every two weeks. We shouldn't be so lazy with determining our own measurement of success and happiness.
Take Social Media for What It Is
None of this is to suggest we should bury our heads in the sand and ignore social media altogether. There are plenty of incredible uses for each of these platforms. But what we should do is take our news feeds for exactly what they are, filtered views of other people's lives. They definitely shouldn't be a measuring stick for our own success. Maybe you don't like cars, or don't like to travel or don't plan on having kids. All of these are perfectly fine and shouldn't be called into question every time you open your phone.
The first discussion I have with new financial planning clients focuses entirely on their vision for the future. We then talk about how they can use their resources (money and time) to make that vision a reality. At no point in this reflective exercise has a client ever felt the need to consult their Facebook news feed to determine what they really want to get out of life. We shouldn't either.
(For more from this author, see: Improve Your Financial Life With These 5 Questions.)