Success, to me, has always been about a state of mind. If anyone ever asked me what I strived for in life, I would always say happiness, because in my mind, that is the ultimate success. In fact, I would still say that today. However, what I have come to realise more and more over time is what a warped perception of happiness I share with much of society, particularly the millennials of today – aka the Instagram generation.
Every time I post a picture online, one I have edited and deliberated over for some time, I watch my phone light up and with each ‘like’ I gain, I am filled with a sense of joy. I claim not to care about such superficial matters, knowing deep down my life does not depend on an algorithm-produced number. Yet, I can’t help but enjoy that sensation of victory when a post does ‘well’, which in itself, is a ridiculous concept.
Thus, curious about this self-induced high, I turned to the internet, of course, and found that there is actually a science behind this. New York University professor Adam Alter explains in his book on technology that every time you get a like on a social media post, a chemical called dopamine is produced in the brain, which is also associated with drinking and taking drugs. He goes onto explain that it is all to do with the uncertainty that follows these types of activities. With an Instagram post, for example, you never know how many likes you’re going to get, so each one sparks joy, a sense of validation that I have succeeded in meeting society’s standard. I am successful because I have enough ‘friends’ to fill my ‘like’ quota. I am successful because my photo is good enough, or I look good enough to be ‘commented’ on.
But this is society’s prerequisites for happiness, not mine. Your happiness should not be dictated by a changing norm, preconceived by society. It does not make sense for a body type to come in and out of fashion, for instance. And what makes this worse is that this can affect your own mental health. We are all taught about the harm drugs can have on our mind and body, so why should we ignore the effects of social media when it can be equally as detrimental?
I by no means have everything figured out at 19; I still fall victim to this fake and short-lived sense of triumph. In fact, I still don’t really know what success means to me, but what I do know is that I’d rather spend a bit more time trying to figure it out, and a little less editing my photos.
Illustration: Amy Moss