She was trying to seduce me. I had just asked if she wanted another drink but in two minutes her body had contorted into a knowing pose, developed a coy smile; eyes on the verge of a sexy wink.
Then I realized I was talking to her phone screen. She had flipped it around to take a selfie.
“Sorry, it’s my 100 Happy Days photo,” she said.
“I just love Mexican food. Oh and I’ll have another jug of the mango blended.”
Wondering if my restaurant had forgotten to tell me about some radical new digital promotion I inquired further:
“It’s a challenge on Facebook and Twitter to post a photo that makes you happy each day, for 100 days.”
Yesterday she posted a picture of her sparkly nails after a luxurious manicure session downtown.
#100happydays is the latest social media trend to shimmy the line between a rebranded-self-help-textbook and the unbearable increasing narcissism of a digital generation. The well-intentioned fad has humble beginnings after Dmitry Golubnichy from Switzerland started the challenge November of last year when he wanted to re-evaluate what made him happy.
The 27-year-old then challenged the world to do the same at the start of the year. It isn’t as easy as it sounds though – supposedly 71% of those who attempt the challenge fail, with “lack of time” cited as the main reason for the dropout rate.
Participants have reported feeling enlightened and more appreciative of life, the website claims chirpily. However, the patronizing self-help tones and cute fonts fail to recognize the darker side of challenging people to be consistently happy.
It is no startling revelation that social media has the ability to make people feel terrible about themselves. We carefully craft our online presence – flattering pictures in perfect lighting and cheekbone-enhancing angles, checking in to places or publicly reminiscing on seeing a friend. It leaves others questioning their value.
As children we were told not to be jealous – the grass is always greener on the other side. Now the grass has been through every Instagram shade possible, resulting in a loss of realistic perception.
The next generation will probably be taught a new motto: Life is always shinier on-screen – the face more defined, the social life more blossoming and the repertoire wittier than in real life.
The challenge is reminiscent of gratitude diaries – a self-help technique that has been around for a long time. I had one after a difficult time last year. It features disgustingly and deliciously greasy cheese enchiladas and copious dog pictures. My friends will be thankful I didn’t bestow such mundaneness upon them for 100 solid days.
And that’s the difference with #100happydays. It is not our generation’s new gratitude diary–it is a trend. It is only for 100 days and publicly broadcasted instead of being a personal hobby. We are forced to see borderline narcissistic posts – despite many good intentions – in a throwback to the #nomakeupselfie trend of last month. There is some force that compels us to share everything online and when coupled with this faux-happiness it can be damaging for a vulnerable audience. Even participants can be struck down with despair after comparisons inevitably arise.
The very concept of having to find a happy moment every day is daunting. We all have bad days. If you miss a day, you have failed. A week? Better call a doctor. Every moment online once captured is edited and presented in a way to showcase our “best self” but that is rarely remembered when absent-mindedly scrolling through a newsfeed. If a partner buys their girlfriend roses and in response she takes a quick snap for her daily picture then neither of them is able to fully appreciate the moment. And what about the lonely singletons who see this lovely picture pop up on social media?
For people going through a hard time, these trends can make things more hopeless. Try telling a depressed person to “see the good in a day” when they have forgotten how to feel joy doing activities they once loved. Or encouraging someone with anxiety to go out and “experience the world” when they are too petrified to leave their bed.
There is nothing wrong with taking photos of moments that make you happy. I did it and it’s proven a valuable souvenir to look back on when I find myself feeling down. But sharing it and making it trendy can catalyse self-destructive behaviour in vulnerable people. The public element starts to make it a competition. For one person, socializing for the first time in three months might be a big deal but at the same time someone else’s happy photo could be gaining access to an exclusive bar with a bounty of grinning friends.
What makes us happy is subjective and, much like inside jokes, no one really cares unless you are in on it. That a leaf on a “nice” tree that made you feel like a child again doesn’t matter to anyone but you. Just like me thinking cheese is the greatest food invented and taking photos of enchiladas filled with the stuff isn’t going to trigger a revolution for the dairy industry.
But if you dare criticize these posts you are bitter, negative and jealous because you obviously fail the integrity and stamina to achieve 100 days of happiness. It’s the #kony2012 “do you want the children to die?” and #nomakeupselfie “you literally like cancer” side of social media where any debate on these faux-self-help-charity-trends causes vitriol and the smiling faces turn menacing.
Instead we are expected to shut up and enjoy the pictures: coffee mugs, candles, a cold beer after an 11-hour shift, a bubble bath, fingers intertwined with a lover, yoga poses, literary greats or other items with little significance to anyone but the photographer.
The novelty of sharing your happiness with the world wearing off is probably the real reason behind the challenge’s 71% failure rate. Or perhaps the visible decline in “likes” once participants get to day 10 and their friends can no longer grin and bear these positive but vague posts clogging up their newsfeeds.
If only we could transfer happiness through a photo – the jalapeno-laden burrito on a plate making its way to a hungry child looking longingly at Twitter images of MAC make-up and theme park getaways – then we could really understand what “sharing” is.
Image via We Heart It