This Labor Day weekend, some people will recline among friends and family next a roaring campfire, basking in the warm glow of the photo they just posted. Others will be up early on a beautiful Maine morning, sunlight filtering through the steam of their first mug of coffee as they tweet about it. Still others might just be out fishing, perched on a rock beside a picturesque river, ogling the salmon they just posted to Instagram.
And for every one person posting about all the sick Maine stuff they’re doing will be three scrolling wistfully through, thinking, dang, my Labor Day is weak. If you tend to be that person scrolling through (and even if you’re that person posting pictures) this post is for you.
First, none of this is wrong, mind you. It is simply the reality of what happens when we all get government sponsored “free time,” these days. And before you jump to conclusions that this will be a Luddite, “technology is ruining America!” Tweet-burning call-to-arms, it’s not. Hopefully, it’ll be an empowering reminder of the thin hold technology has over our happiness. In essence, this post is here to limn the difference between the reality that we each exist in and the reality that appears to exist online. More simply, to call social media on its BS.
Online reality? you ask. Yes. You know, the reality that joy comes with followers, retweets and Likes. The reality that all your friends on Facebook (minus the 10% that use it to vent spleen or discuss pressing issues) are constantly having the time of their lives. The reality that every picturesque sunset or seaside picnic that pops up on your feed makes you feel as if you’re squandering your short life by comparison.
The thing is, all of us know that what we post online is rarely representative of our actual lives. But rarely do we think about that in relation to others. Meaning, that every time someone else posts a photo, it’s a simple, idealized representation of what’s going on with them.
Of course, all our actual lives are invariably more complex and difficult. What with the news being just about the most depressing string of calamities in recent memory (Ferguson, Ebola, ISIS, etc.) and every other little unfulfilled dream and petty disappointment of every day life — the life that happens in minutes and seconds, not weeks or months — it’s hard to be as happy as we want. Especially during the holidays.
By comparison, our online existence is a nearly unmitigated torrent of happiness and hilarity, (and sometimes the odd my kids are crazy post, my pet passed away post, or the omnipresent social thing that everyone is doing because everyone is doing it post) which is in stark opposition to the loosely wrangled chaos of the real world. This duality creates a sort of displeasure vortex for us in the real world, where true, visceral happiness appears to be something only available in someone else’s pictures or Vines.
So, you’re probably thinking, “when are we getting to how to enjoy this Labor Day in the beautiful state of Maine?” Soon, my friend.
Why are we like this? Why can’t we just be happy with what we’re doing and not compare it to something else? Well, in one part, because unhappiness is a vital human trait.
Think about it: if humans, as a species, were, at our core, happy creatures, we’d still be living in caves. Yes, caves. If the earliest people, squatting in mud-black dampness, grilling scrawny rabbits over moss-fires under the steady drip of stalactites had been thinking “this is sick,” that’s where we’d still be. But we’re not.
We — the big, pan-cultural We — can’t help but constantly assess our current situation in respect to how we can make it better, in essence, ensuring that the situation we’re in is never good enough. It’s why we feel a blip of joy with the next follower, retweet or like. We have been bred since the dawn of homo sapiens to find fault in right now, in order to make tomorrow better. We wanted more food. So we farmed with oxen. Trains were too slow. So we invented planes. That video of a dog riding a skateboard wasn’t loading. So we demanded cable internet and fiber optic cables after that. It’s a constant movement toward better better better that leaves us feeling as if we’re always just out of arm’s reach of “The Way Life Should Be.”
And this ties directly to our relationship with who we appear to be online (and subsequently, how to actually enjoy this Labor Day weekend).
Comparison, by which I mean looking at somebody’s Monster Cookout 2014 Photo Album, thinking “well it looks like they’re having more fun than I am,” is the biggest threat to happiness. Especially when comparing your real, every day life against someone’s hyper-idealized online existence. Rarely, is there not someone having a better time than you, ever. And online, you will never be the happiest. Period.
This is the key to actually enjoying your Labor Day Weekend: don’t think about what anyone else is doing. Think about how much fun you’re having, in that moment.
Because in reality, behind every “Kayaking Acadia. Gorgeous…” tweet is someone trying to simultaneously wedge a canoe paddle in their armpit and squintingly type on a phone that’s on the verge of plummeting into the sea. Behind every “Having the best time with the best crew!” photo is a cameraperson trying not to stumble into drunken revelers while everyone in the photo hopes they don’t look that hammered. And behind every shot of a gorgeous sunrise is someone blocking their own view of that same gorgeous sunrise with a carefully-placed tiny, black rectangle.
And here you are in Maine, a place with nearly infinite things to enjoy. Whether you’re just visiting or are a lifelong Maine-ah, I applaud your discerning geographic taste. Since you know where to be, you also probably know what you enjoy doing. So go do that.
And that’s really all there is to it. In the end, the advice on how to actually enjoy this weekend is deceptively simple: go have fun. Go camping, go eat, go play board games, go kayak, go surf, go sit around, go hike, go party, go read a book or don’t go do anything at all. Just do what you’re going to do, don’t worry about anyone else’s plans.
No matter if it’s a three-person cookout on the tiny back lot of your apartment complex or a wild night of being serially jostled by bros and bro-ettes in the Old Port, or more likely for the author, retiring to a secluded, mosquito-plagued spot in the wilds of Maine, do it with joy.
Your plans are the best plans out there. So get out and enjoy the hell out of the beautiful state of Maine. It’s your Labor Day, celebrate it.
*Photo credit (above): http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunset_Cliff.jpg