A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a close friend.
“Zoe,” he said. “I have a very important question.”
He told me that based on my Facebook photos, it looks like I’m having an incredible time in LA and that I’m so happy.
“Are you actually as happy as your Facebook page makes it seem?”
“Honestly, probably not,” I admitted to him.
Yes, I am happy. I love USC, LA, my roommates, my apartment and my freedom.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss my high school, Connecticut, my home friends and family and the safety and comfort of my house. That doesn’t mean that I never feel lonely, lost or disconnected – you just would never know that from seeing my Facebook page.
And I know that many of my friends feel the same way, too. No one is alone in struggling. It’s hard to admit, but at the same time, admitting it is the only way to begin to make it better. If you’re unhappy with something in your life and you can’t admit it to others, then you can’t admit it to yourself. If you can’t admit it to yourself, then you can’t change it to make it better.
I know some people who, if you only saw their Snapchat stories and Instagram posts and Facebook page, you would think that they were “killing it” at school. You’d believe that they were having the best time ever. You’d probably even be a little bit jealous of how happy they appeared to be.
Many of them are truly happy, I’m sure. But there are also many who appear to be living perfect college lives but are actually still struggling to find friends who care about them and searching for balance between social life and school and missing their families like crazy.
Sometimes, this is because it’s just inevitably hard to adjust.
But other times, it’s because there are many people out there who are so worried about looking like they’re having a good time at school that they forget to actually have a good time.
They receive more validation from their friends and from other people thinking that they’re happy than from genuinely being happy.
It doesn’t make sense! Shouldn’t you be doing things that make YOU feel happy, not just that make OTHER PEOPLE think you’re happy?
I think it’s a lot about having to do things for yourself, trying to make yourself proud, being your own friend and really knowing yourself. If you have a level of confidence that allows you to be sure of the choices you make, the friends you have and everything you do, you shouldn’t need any kind of validation from other people.
But all of this is easier said than done, I know. Especially in today’s society in which social media is as present as ever and “likes” can make or break a good mood, it’s sometimes hard to remember what it means to be genuinely happy all on your own.
Now I’m not trying to be all Essena O’Neill-y here; I think social media is a great thing. I think it’s a practical way to express yourself and to keep in touch with friends. I’m just saying that a lot of the time, social media doesn’t tell the whole story.
You show everyone that you’re going to a party, standing next to a cute boy, going out on a date, drinking alcohol, dancing under flashing lights, getting back home late at night, hanging with new friends, eating at a hip restaurant or seeing a cool band perform.
But what you don’t show is you crying because you’re homesick, staying up all night to study, complaining about a boy who didn’t text you the next day, missing your home friends, wishing your parents could take care of you when you’re sick or struggling to find true friends.
And it’s so ok to have hard moments like those in college. The transition to college – no, really, just being in college in general – is not supposed to be easy. For many people, going off to college is the most drastic change they’ve experienced in their young life.
Anyway, isn’t part of college supposed to be about finding yourself? About figuring out what you like and what you don’t like and who you want to be? How are you supposed to find out these things if you’re so focused on other people’s views of you and so dismissive of your own?
So, you see, social media can sometimes be misleading. This competitiveness, this desire to prove to your friends and your followers that you are having the best time at school, is ridiculous. And this cycle, where one person tries to prove himself or herself and then everyone else feels the need to do the same, is crazy. It all takes away from the authenticity of happiness and of people in general.
These cycles can be broken, if we want to break them. We just have to focus on ourselves. We have to do things that make us feel good instead of just things that make for good photos.
But also, we can’t be afraid of and push away our feelings of unhappiness. We need to feel them, accept them and then do something to change them.
And we need to make more of an effort to go out and discover what it feels like to be genuinely happy, to live in the moment and to make memories so strong and so clear that we don’t even need photos to remember or “likes” to appreciate them.