Life Skills: How To Make Your Life Look Like Your Instagram Feed

By Alison Bowen
Chicago Tribune.

Instagram feeds, those treasure-troves of personal photo galleries, often are bonanzas of decadent meals, brilliant sunsets and perfectly poised centerpieces. These slices of life might be authentic moments, but often our daily life doesn’t resemble these carefully curated slide shows.

Is it possible to use our posts on Instagram, or any other social media platform (hello, Facebook), to craft a life more in line with the ideal we show others?

In fact, experts say, our Instagram feeds might serve as clues to what we need more of. Similarly, jealousy or an eye roll toward others’ postings might signal things we wish existed in our own lives.

Being mindful of all of these things, as well as creating a more authentic portrayal of ourselves online, can boost happiness.

“Remember, nobody’s life looks like their Instagram,” said Kelley Kitley, a licensed clinical social worker whose Chicago private practice is Serendipitous Psychotherapy. But what you gravitate to online can feed, positively, she promises, into authentic happiness, she said. “I look at Instagram as (a) kind of a scrapbook. We don’t put pictures in a photo album that we dislike.”

Think of your postings as a sort of scavenger hunt to what you enjoy most, or when you feel most content. This often creates a virtual photo feed of the best moments of any given day, fashioning a feed of bliss.

While ideally this is rooted in genuine delight, it also can be motivated by social pressures.

“People feel pressure to be fabulous, to look like they’re fabulous,” said Stacy Kaiser, psychotherapist and editor at large of

When people jot down a status or upload a photo, it might also be an acknowledgment of goals, consciously or not, said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, who teaches media psychology at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif., and directs the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach, Calif.

“They’re posting their desirable self, or their aspirational self or their ideal self, in a way, so that they are reminded to strive for that,” Rutledge said.

And whether we intend social media to drip into our psyche, what we post and view online affects us, experts say.

Kitley said clients often reference others’ social media posts during sessions. One client, struggling in her own marriage, mentioned a friend’s cheery anniversary message.

“She said it just made her have a pit in her stomach about the choices she’s made,” Kitley said.

So, how to harness social media for a more fulfilling life? Suggestions from the experts:

Use it as inspiration. “A lot of this posting becomes similar to an idea board,” Rutledge said, “where you’re exploring things that you like … or the kinds of things that you’d like to do. I think we can look at these things as aspirational, and self-exploration.”

Banish the negativity that often accompanies scrolling, the petty jealousy about a friend’s lavish Italy photos, the eye roll over a high school friend’s gushing blog post, the anger because that jerk from college seems to be having more fun.

Kitley said she used to avoid social media, “feeling like it was a really inauthentic capture of what everyone’s lives were like,” she said.

Now, she relishes Facebook posts that inspire her, like a sunrise in her neighborhood she hadn’t noticed because she was too focused on rushing to work. Another photo of a newborn spurred nostalgic, affectionate memories with her four kids.

“I think there can be some real positivity that comes out of it,” she said.

Use it to boost your self-image. Even posting images of yourself at your best can have a positive psychological effect.

Rutledge recently researched selfies, finding that most people took a selfie because they really liked something about themselves, a fantastic outfit or fierce hair.

“They’re markers to them of these high points,” she said. “It becomes a very positive, reinforcing thing.”

Blips of posting happy moments can have a cumulative positive effect too.

“They allow us to document the process of life,” Rutledge said. “This little amount of appreciation, cumulatively, has a big impact. … All of these images we’re posting, these bits and pieces of life, are essentially these moments of gratitude.”

Use it as a map for the future. The things we’re drawn to on social media can be signposts for things that we should incorporate into our lives, Kaiser suggested.

“If you’re finding yourself drawn to pictures of beautiful sunsets, you should be going to more of them,” Kaiser said, adding that social media can be used as a puzzle piece toward pursuing a happier life.

Kaiser suggests making a list of what you consider the “real” you, things you enjoy, like playing shortstop in softball or cuddling your Pomeranian. “Those are things that you want to keep on doing, things that make you happy and that you’re excited about sharing,” she said.

Consider a social media journal, Rutledge said. Write down what you’re using and why, if you’re bored, for example, or what led you to the site.

Use it as motivation. Similarly to creating a list of things you enjoy doing, start writing down what you would like to do, or need more of.

“Sometimes looking at other people’s social media makes us feel inadequate, so that serves to be a reminder that we do (need) things in our life that make us happy,” Kaiser said. “It might be pictures of me doing physical activities, it might be more vacation, it might be, ‘I want my mate to give me more flowers.'”

Also, start making notes of what you need to do to accomplish having those things in your life. Jot down ideas of people to ask, if you’re not sure. Perhaps check in with a friend who constantly posts fantastic food photos, asking how she learned to cook that way.

“If you see that someone is posting something that you wish you were doing, then you should go do that,” Kaiser said. “You can make those things happen in your life, and work toward making that happen.”

Plan a trip. Plot a new job.
Jealousy or discouragement need to be replaced with more constructive emotions, Kaiser said. “It can be a springboard for you to make your life better.”

Use it to reinforce positive emotions. Kitley said it’s key to make sure that whatever social media page you’re visiting, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you are navigating a positive virtual environment. If it’s creating feelings that are more negative than positive, consider scaling back.

Sometimes, this is dependent on your own attitude; other times, it may be colored by circumstances in your life.

For example, Kaiser said, “If you’re in huge financial trouble and all of your friends are going on vacation in the summer, it’s probably best not to look.”

Use it, but lighten up. Stepping back from the temptation to tap out a post can lead to more enjoyment too. Recently, Kitley said, she was having a great time with her children, and she wanted to post a photo. Wrangling the four kids into a frame made her reconsider.

“I had this moment of, ‘This is ridiculous. Just put the phone down, and enjoy being with them in the moment,'” she said. “It shouldn’t just be something (to) post on social media.”

Remember, life’s happiest moments occur far from a screen.

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