Instagram seems to be very confident about what’s supposed to make us happy. We’re meant to be jewelry-encrusted globe-trotters with perfect skin and massive bubble-butts, right?
But when you look around at the people you know in your personal life, you soon see that the reality is different. Most people these days aren’t even allowed out of their own front doors, let alone on some grand jet set.
It brings up an important question about what ‘Instagram happiness’ actually is.
On the face of it, the platform seems to be suggesting that the only way to be satisfied in life is to accumulate as many material possessions as possible. Once we have rubies dripping off our fingers, beauty, and a private jet complete with manicure services, we will have made it.
But all this showboating is actually saying something different. Instagram culture is not really about happiness at all, it’s more a bunch of people conveying what they think looks like the “best life.”
But is the Instagram approach to happiness really the best? Or should it set its sights higher?
Interestingly, we’ve seen a number of high-profile figures leave the platform in recent months. It seems that for all the materialism Instagram accounts promote, it’s not enough for some – even those who are extremely successful.
It’s worth asking why certain Instagram portrayals of happiness have become so widespread and generic. Why is the vision of success somebody posing in tight gym wear?
The Science Of Instagram Happiness
It all comes down to the way our brains process information. It turns out that we have a natural affinity for repetition. When we see a cue that is supposed to represent happiness, we internalize it so that we can recognize it faster in the future.
Think about the types of images that induce the feel-good factor on Instagram – like somebody standing atop a mountain during sunset. As regular users of the platform, we’re used to viewing images like this and, over time, we build positive associations with them. They become the ultimate pictorial representation of somebody who’s living their life to the full.
As we become accustomed to these images, we learn to love them more and more. And eventually, they began inducing even stronger reactions in us.
That’s why images on Instagram are a Rolodex of travel photos. Millennials on the platform seem to believe that the only route to happiness is to continually move around, never staying in one place. They have a desire to “see the world,” not save up for a mortgage and settle down.
People do portray the ordinary life on Instagram, but it doesn’t create the kind of gravity of a celebrity account. Users want to see images of what they think the best possible lives look like. They don’t want the platform to remind them that life, for most people, is a bit of a grind.
Fan accounts are an important part of this phenomenon. Many users find it just as much fun to follow a follower of a celebrity as the real person themselves. Fans have a knack for putting a fresh spin on what it’s like to spend a day in a celebrity’s shoes. They get under their skin and teach us all of the ups and downs.
In a sense, this activity makes the role of celebrities more human and less divine.
So what does real-life contentment look like? Well, it’s certainly not trying to pay off a massive debt because you spent your entire twenties and thirties traveling.
Instead, it’s building your life from the ground up under your own steam.
Instagram tends to present the finished article – what people’s lives are like after they’ve put in the hard work. But it doesn’t always acknowledge the process. And that’s a pity. Ask most happy people what they love about life, and they’ll tell you that it’s the struggle itself.
Real-life contentment is less about material acquisition and more about feeling valued and striving towards your potential. It’s not something you can fake. You have to construct it over time, piece by piece. And you need to fail sometimes as well.
With that said, the current state of affairs is likely to continue. People will keep choosing holiday destinations and clothing based on how “Instagrammable” they are because they have a particular idea of happiness.
In this context, the challenge will be to remember that contentment takes all sorts of different forms. It’s never the same for two people.