Let’s be honest. Most of us have a love-hate relationship with social media. We love the quick hits: of updates, entertainment, and likes, and the flood of gratifying dopamine they bring.
But we also don’t love the vast amount of time we spend doing it, the social comparison that makes us feel bad, or the information overload that leaves us overwhelmed and drained.
I’m old enough that I didn’t see the Internet until I was in college, and didn’t have a smart phone until I was in my 30s, so I still remember when IRL (“in real life”) was the only way to be in life. But now, I not only use social media in my personal life, I’m on a screen all day long for work.
My main day job is as a writer for companies; I write everything from tweets and ad copy to long articles and blog posts. You know those annoying company emails piled up in your inbox? There’s a chance I wrote some of them, too. And I see that businesses, as well, have a love-hate relationship with social media.
While on the one hand, it’s amazing that companies can communicate with their customers in so many different ways, they also face the pressure to do so. If you run a business, it’s expected that you’ll be on all the social media channels, sending out emails, keeping up a blog, creating videos, and continuing to churn out constant content.
A whole lot of time and money go into channels of communication that didn’t even exist a decade ago.
What you may not realize is how much of that time and money is geared toward trying to get you to look at certain things while you’re online. We’re all constantly bombarded with ads, promoted posts, and product placements working hard to earn our “clicks.”
Since you must be reading this on some sort of screen, chances are you don’t want to give up on social media altogether. And that’s fine. Social media gives us an incredible opportunity to connect, learn, and grow.
But how do we find balance in this fast-paced digital world we live in? How do we benefit from the joy this form of technology can bring us, while avoiding the pitfalls?
If you’ve read posts of mine before, you probably know that I wrote a book about joy and I’m rather obsessed with the topic: how to find joy, how to keep it, and how to find it again when I lose it.
So in my strong desire for joy, and yet my physiological need for balance, here’s how I’m creating a joyful relationship with social media:
1. Get clear about your objectives.
Why do you want to look at Facebook (Twitter, Instagram, etc.) anyway? Do you do it for work? Is it your source of news? Do you want to keep up with your friends? Without a goal in mind, social media can easily consume hours of our time each day. But if we know why we’re there (and hopefully it’s a reason that makes us feel good!) then we can limit our activity to achieving that objective.
2. Choose your platform.
There seriously are not enough hours in the day for you to be active on all the social media platforms that exist. If we spend our entire lives posting, pinning, tweeting, and snapping, what would we even have to say? Choose your favorite one, the one that gives you the most of #1 (your objective), and stick to it.
3. Follow joy.
This is a big one. You have to be really honest with yourself here and notice how you feel when you look at the posts you’re seeing. Keep it simple: do you feel more joy or less joy? If you consistently feel less joy when you see certain posts, unfollow. It may sound harsh, but this is the main way we can create a more joyful experience on social media: filter what we see.
4. Use social media only at certain times.
Instead of logging on whenever you have a spare minute or receive a notification, set aside a specific time each day for social media and stick to that time. Give it to yourself as a special pleasurable treat, like reading a book or taking a bath, but don’t let it be so pervasive that it takes away from all the other things you do each day. Turn off notifications so you aren’t tempted by those little red and white numbers.
5. Digital detox regularly.
Pick a day (or more) each week when your phone is put away, and your eyes and brain get a complete break from screen time. This might make the most sense to do on the weekend. Immerse yourself in the present moment, and give your loved ones in your actual reality your full attention. You may also decide that certain times of each day are phone-free, after 5 pm for example.
6. Make adjustments as needed.
Check in with yourself regularly and ask yourself if your social media use feels balanced and joyful, or if it’s tipping toward causing more stress than joy. If it gets to be too much, readjust your boundaries. Find other ways to flood your brain with dopamine and other feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters, like acts of kindness, cuddles with loved ones, and being active outdoors.
It’s an interesting time to be alive, that’s for sure. We’re more connected than ever, but that connection also has the potential to make us more disconnected than ever—from our loved ones and the present moment. However, if we can keep our balance in the midst of a sea of digital diversions, we can enjoy the pleasure they give us without being sucked under by the undercurrent of downsides they come with.
Kaia Roman is the author of the new “memoir with benefits,” The Joy Plan (Sourcebooks, July 2017). She teaches Mindfulness to elementary school students in Santa Cruz, California. Kaia writes about how she went from joyless and anxious to grateful and optimistic so she can remember how she did it if she forgets. For everyday joy and mindfulness tips, sign up for her newsletter at TheJoyPlan.com.