It’s easy to fall into the trap of imaging how much happier you would be if you owned this sweater, or if you had better handwriting, or if you stretched for 10 minutes when you woke up instead of lying in bed scrolling through a Twitter feed that bores you just so you can put off facing the day. With the prevalence of influencer culture there’s a reinforcement of this idea that you can find contentment through a superficial lifestyle change, whether it’s taking a yoga class or buying a ceramic mug that costs two week’s worth of groceries. Not to say that the occasional retail therapy session doesn’t help fill the void, it only becomes a problem when you find yourself making similar purchases or implementing similar routines in the hopes they’ll make you content.
I was struck by this realisation the hardest when I moved out of my parent’s house in September and into an apartment of my own. It’s a single room with a bathroom, barely larger than my bedroom back home, but it’s got a slanted ceiling, a skylight, and quick access to a fire escape which overlooks the roofs of the old houses that surround my building. The kind of abode I spent my high school years dreaming about, really. I thought that this apartment, this feeling of independence and adulthood would catapult me into contentment, that this would encourage me to be a better, more fulfilled person. Maybe I’d be more sociable, I’d be the kind of person who greets the prospect of meeting new people with open minded vivacity rather than disgruntled anxiety. Instead I’ve become the kind of person who waits until she hears her neighbours have left the shared hallway before she exits just to avoid pleasantries, not because she’s incapable of producing them but because the thought of them exhausts her. Turns out it wasn’t my lifestyle that was the problem, it was me.
If this experience has confirmed anything for me that most of the time it’s not your external circumstances that are the issue, it’s who you are as a person. These superficial changes won’t help make you happier necessarily, they’ll only make you more aware of the feeling that something is lacking in your life, though you can’t figure out what it is. I’ve adopted positive changes suggested by others; I’ve been an avid diarist since my days in middle school, and I can promise you that if you do get to know yourself better through a journal you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. It turns out that even in the intimacy of my own company I’m still underwhelming.
On social media there’s a flood of influencers selling their lifestyles, appealing to a multitude of people. Maybe this idea of ‘lifestyle’ is at the heart of the problem. I remember watching the Martin Scorsese/Fran Leibowitz show on Netflix Pretend it’s a City and an audience member asked Leibowitz how she ‘would describe her lifestyle’ to which the response was ‘well I wouldn’t use the word ‘lifestyle’ first of all.’ At first I snickered at this line, but as time went on I found myself recalling it in the context of trying to find contentment through the way I live day to day. Brands have always tried to sell their products based on this concept of lifestyle, but with social media and influencers not only has this kind of advertising become more common, but it has also become more subtle. This aspirational advertising promises us those lifestyle changes we so crave because we believe we can become someone else through them. And that’s what this kind of content promises us, ultimately, the idea that we can be someone else because we’re not happy with who we are currently. We’re frequently a disappointment to ourselves but wearing a beret or eating three bananas every morning won’t bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be. It’s a lot of pressure on the average person, this belief that you can find gratification on a larger scale through these kinds of changes suggests that the problem of contentment is a simple problem, and it’s anything but.
It's easy to fall into the trap of seeing photos on social media and forgetting that the person behind it has a whole life to fill. We can all go out for coffee and croissants once in a while, but just like the rest of us these influencers have seemingly endless hours to fill and the Instagrammable moments in everyone’s life are fleeting and represent the minority of these people’s daily existence. Everyone is tasked with monotony and restlessness at least part of the time, and you can talk about romanticising the everyday as much as you like but that’s a hard task to keep up. Difficult to romanticise your own personality, that’s a level of narcissism even I haven’t attained.
For most of us, living with ourselves is uncomfortable and the majority of the time we won’t feel particularly happy with who we are as people. We rarely, if ever, live up to these ideals of ourselves, whether they are self imposed or touted by others. Unless we want to drive ourselves mad, maybe it’s ok to accept mediocrity and mess, to not try and bolster ourselves with these shallow changes to combat an ever increasing sense that our lives are hollow and nothing like they promised on the brochures.