A couple weeks back, I had a bad day. Not a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, but one of those Mondays where nothing goes quite right, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong. I was running late from the get-go, never felt truly settled or present for any of my meetings, was anxious about a variety of things out of my control, and my kids and I were neck and neck in an intense meltdown competition (note: everybody lost).
Waist-deep in the Monday-ness of it all, I took advantage of a quiet moment in the afternoon by escaping into Facebook-Land. Hoping for an interesting article, an exciting life update from a friend, or just a little hit of mental methadone, what I encountered was far from the escape I had hoped for. It turns out that everybody else in the world was having an awesome day, with the sun shining down on all of their tanned, wrinkle-free faces, their perfectly-coiffed kids cooperating beautifully, and life dealing them ace after ace after ace.
After begrudgingly “Like”-ing all of their posts (I was having a bad day, but I’m not a monster), I logged out and went back to my day. Somehow, the clouds seemed cloudier, the whining whinier, the headache achier. Unbeknownst to me, I was experiencing a newly discovered reaction called the “Facebook Effect”.
Several studies over the last few years have found that “rather than enhancing well-being, Facebook undermines it”. And while my experience was just about having a bad day, the results can be much more dangerous. The most common emotional reaction to Facebook use is envy, which can lead to increased symptoms of depression.
Given these findings, one might think that we would log on less often, seeking out the face to face interactions that increase our sense of well-being. But the opposite is true: we’re using Facebook more than ever before – 40 minutes a day in the US – and feeling worse about ourselves than we ever have. Now don’t get me wrong, Facebook offers many virtues, too. I’m no luddite; I love Facebook and will continue to use it to connect with friends and keep my finger on the pulse of the world around me. There’s got to be a way to use it without exposing our vulnerable selves to these destructive emotions every time we log in. So how can we break the cycle?
First and foremost, the low-hanging fruit is simply to cut back on our use of Facebook. One great way is to commit to a “Tech Sabbath”. Pick a day – any day – and stick to it. Log out, sign off, and give your precious technology a day off. If you’re worried that your iPhone will get cold without your sweaty hands constantly reaching for it, pick up a cozy little sleeping bag for it. Your phone, your family, and your soul will thank you for it. Best of all, you’ll be much more likely to engage in real life encounters, which have the opposite effect on your sense of well-being.
Second, make an offering for #TruthfulTuesday. Created by my friend Alexandra Etscovitz, #TruthfulTuesday is an opportunity to sacrifice filters, photo editing, and glossing over the challenging aspects of our lives for just one day a week. #TruthfulTuesday asks the question: If we can keep it real, even just for one day a week, how might it help our fellow travelers as they struggle along their way?
In biblical tradition we read about all different types of sacrifice – from grains to oils to animals. But as religion developed over time to focus more on internal modes of sacrifice, the Prophet Micah offered this: “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…” While he wasn’t thinking about Facebook posts when he wrote that charge, his instructions apply perfectly, nonetheless.
So today – whatever day it is that you’ve stumbled here – try it out. Make an unfiltered offering of what your life looks like when the cameras are off, when the sun isn’t shining, and when things aren’t falling into place – they’re just falling. I’ll start.
My dishwasher and washing machine just broke on the same day last week. My house is an absolute mess today, and roughly 2/3 of the barefoot steps I take at home land firmly onto tiny lego pieces. Rhode Island – the state I proudly call home and about which I post glorified articles regularly – was blanketed in snow two weeks ago, the third week of spring. Our state-wide pothole epidemic has graduated to sinkholes, and I’m fairly sure I’ll be swallowed up any day now.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me atop this virtual altar on #TruthfulTuesday, and share your offerings alongside mine. We may not be able to reverse the “Facebook Effect” entirely, but we might just find ourselves a little bit happier when we log in – and out – of Facebook.
Rabbi Elan Babchuck is committed to leaving behind a world that is more compassionate and connected than the one he found. In pursuit of that commitment he serves as the Executive Vice President at Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and the Founding Executive Director of Glean Network, which partners with Columbia Business School. He was ordained in 2012, and earned his MBA that year, as well.
A sought-after thought leader, he has delivered keynotes at stages ranging from TEDx to the US Army’s General Officer Convocation, published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, Washington Post, and Religion News Service, has a column for The Wisdom Daily, contributed to Meaning Making – 8 Values That Drive America’s Newest Generations (2020, St. Mary’s Press) and is the co-author of the forthcoming book Picking Up the Pieces: Leadership After Empire (2023, Fortress Press).
He also serves as:
- a Founding Partner of Starts With Us, a movement to counteract toxic polarization in America,
- a Research Advisory Board Member of Springtide Research Institute, which focuses on spirituality, mental health and Gen Z,
- a founding board member of Beloved Network, a network of startup Jewish communities, and
- a member of the Board of Advisors of the Changemaker Initiative.
He lives in Providence, Rhode Island with his wife, Lizzie Pollock, and their three children: Micah, Nessa, and Ayla. In his spare time, he finds sanctuary while climbing rock walls around New England and tending to his backyard garden.