All families look happy on Instagram. Is it real?

Social networks have become an integral part of our lives. We know what's going on with other people and also enjoy sharing our experiences. But will what we see actually harm us?

 Woman holding camera (illustrative) (photo credit: PEXELS)
Woman holding camera (illustrative)
(photo credit: PEXELS)

Usually, we choose to tell a happy story. It doesn't matter if we were stuck somewhere, or if we fought with our spouse or even if our two-year-old had a tantrum. We usually choose to smile for the camera in our most flattering pose and tell the world that everything is simply wonderful. How much of this is true and accurate? It's unclear.

In real life, there are other emotions, even less pleasant ones such as pain, sadness, frustration, shame, hardship, etc. which we sometimes choose to display less. 

In the picture, we usually choose to show how happy we are and how well we feel. We capture the moment that everyone will see and then the smile falls because we return to the more accurate reality. 

We'll paint a picture that everything is good and wonderful, yet we feel inside ourselves something completely different. This will create dissonance within us, a feeling of discomfort, of a gap and disconnection from ourselves and who we really are because we have learned to focus outward instead of inward. We show and tell a story to the world that isn't authentic, yet it's easy to tell and easy for everyone to absorb.

Showing only the shiny moments

Another aspect is that in addition to the gap we feel within us, another parent may also see it. All families enjoy life and their kids; when something goes wrong someone may feel like a failure.

 Woman taking photo (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS) Woman taking photo (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS)
When you are exposed to pictures of happiness and joy of the whole family vacationing together abroad and everything looks wonderful and shiny, no one will say that a moment ago one kid lay down on the sidewalk because you didn't buy them ice cream or an expensive toy from the souvenir shop and you felt really embarrassed. 

No photo caption will say that just when you went out, the middle child suddenly remembered that she had to go to the bathroom, and then when you finally arrived at the cafe the kids wouldn't eat anything and didn't allow you to enjoy yourself, not to mention the whole way they asked when you'd get there.

These are only a couple of scenarios and there are surely times when everything flows well and is great, resulting in the pictures telling the truth. But sometimes they don't, at least not all of it, and we still want to show how good and perfect we were when inside we don't always feel that way.

Today some groups let us tell the less pleasant truth which produces solidarity, identification and laughter, but not all of us are willing to do so. It's just seen as less sexy to complain that you're having a hard time and most of the time we'd like to be part of the people who really show off all the good the world has to offer.

What motivates us in some cases is some kind of social satisfaction from showing the shiny happy parts of our lives. This, as mentioned, may create a dissonance between reality and inner experience. It should be remembered that everyone has challenges, they just choose not to show them.

My recommendation to you is to remember that a few photos don't show the whole situation. Maybe it's a real moment, or maybe it's a moment of potential longing. But it's only a small part that they chose to show. 

There's always something else going on and it's our choice what to show. We frame what we want to pass on and sometimes it also helps us deal with difficult circumstances.

Authenticity is key

It's okay if you feel jealous and it's okay if it makes you laugh and it's okay even if you can't produce such moments yourself, even if only for the photo. You didn't fail or mess up; you simply lived the moment authentically and experienced the overwhelm, even if it wasn't nice.

We must be aware of what triggers us to create a perfect image of reality. When we focus on authentic moments and deal less with comparisons we'll be calm and can accept our real lives.
Be in the moment of truth, in fun, joy, frustration and difficulty, and when you feel that there's a real and authentic moment that you want to remember and record, take a spontaneous photo so that you remember this moment as it was and not staged just to be part of a social standard that says, "You should be happy and desirable all the time, especially with your kids and especially on family vacations."

In reality, there are both moments of frustration and moments of happiness, the choice is yours - what to focus on and what to show to the world. Just make sure with yourself that you also feel this way inside.

Noga Hila Mutana is a parent and family instructor, NLP facilitator, holistic child therapist and relationship counselor.

This article was written in partnership with the JAMA parenting app.