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  • Tiago Costa

Living the life and dealing with the power of emotions

I open Instagram and all I see is happiness. This social media thing is making more people be out of the real world, to spend more time in the virtual reality. It's a fact that platforms like Instagram, among others, were created with a great intention of allowing people to express their personalities in a free and wide internet. It promotes network, fast connections, and cultural sharing -- which is great!

However, the social media like our society is cultivating today, is full of idealism and in need of more realism. In my opinion, the more time people spend looking to a screen, the less real interpersonal relations will be created. People will have to choose between deep human empathy and fast cyber relations. In other words, the way we relate to each other is changing; we just have to understand if this is the best for us.

"Are You Living an Insta Lie? Social Media Vs. Reality" shows how Instagram can lie personal lives, by being a tool full of idealism.

To better understand this phenomenon, I have to first understand the basis of these words. What's "power of emotions" means? How can they affect people and influence their decisions? Why are these emotions guiding my posts on social media?

Objectively, emotions are feelings that we (humans) live while experiencing love, fear, hate, excitement, etc. It changes our physiological behavior and makes us laugh, cry, shake or feel desperate in a certain moment. For other side, power is the control, the command, or the authority that a certain person or a group have upon other subjects. As a result, the power of emotions is no more than the control that our brain have upon our full-body during an emotive, stressed or anxious moment. That may be guiding the desire that people have to publish on Instagram, and other social media, without considering some more rational facts.

It's truth that everyone desires to live in happiness. It's a great and comfortable state of mind, and gives people the necessary energy to pursue life goals. But like the writer Emily Esfahani Smith says, happiness is nothing without meaning. "I used to think the whole purpose of life was pursuing happiness," Smith says. Smith refers studies where it was discovered that people who live a life while pursuing happiness are actually more unhappy. She adds that nowadays "more people feel hopeless, depressed and alone." Smith claims that meaning is the answer for many questions; and she divides meaning in four important pillars: belonging, purpose, transcendence and story-telling. She considers these the most essential fundamental principles that everyone needs to live a successful life.

Belonging is characterized for being the feeling of being valued in relationships, as well as the capacity to value other people. Belonging is felt while in the stage of love. To feel that you belong to someone, you have to be valued for who you are and not for what you believe. Purpose "is less about what do you want, but about what you give," Smith says. Living with a purpose makes people have something to drive for, as they feel they're making the difference. People can feel happy at work, but if they don't feel they are changing this planet someway, they will probably not feel their life's purpose. Transcendence is all about the hustle you put in your daily basis. It's the maximum you do with the minimum you have. It's that orange you squeeze until the very last drop. When I think about transcendence, I think about a mother who gives all her life to her children. I think about the immigrants who leave their comfort zones in order to fight for better opportunities. People with personal transcendence gives us motivation to not stop until the goal is achieved. The fourth pillar is storytelling, and this "tends to surprise people," Smith says. Story-teeling is no more than the creation of a personal narrative and the action of looking to ourselves to see how our story goes and what should we do to improve. It's all about metacognition, or for other words, the capacity to think about what we are thinking. Personal storytelling is powerful when we recognize the characters that are around us and we have the capacity to understand if these characters are positive or negative to our lives. People who live meaningful lives tend to express their narratives in a more positive way.

Lisbon, December 2012 © Tiago Costa

Storytelling is powerful and promotes action. However, as a result of a today's dependency on screens, recent studies are suggesting that online readers have less empathy for the stories' characters. The power of emotions makes people create movements for social change, but while relying only on the internet, these same people is dedicating less time to a focused reading like the print offers. Narratives spark empathy and empathy is important to feel emotion. In printed media, readers may have a bigger empathy for the characters of the stories. They will feel the characters' joys or struggles, and this will increase the reader's behavior and the capacity for him/her to take an action.

In psychology, there is something called "transportation theory". This theory explains why and how in many stories, the reader is transported to the reality happening into the narrative. If I narrow this example to just journalism, when the reader is engaged with a story about the struggle of a mother who has five children and no job, his compassion and empathy for this mother will make him act. This story then is promoting social change. Indeed, it doesn't mean that this transportation can't occur while reading stories on a digital screen. However, the studies suggest the internet is changing the depth of our emotions and journalism on the internet will have less impact in the society. As humans become more and more virtual, the impact of our interpersonal relations will also decrease.

Think with me... how many times did you noticed that in a group of people who organized an event together, with a purpose of catching up, everyone is looking to their cellphones instead of communicating to each other? It happens almost every day. The new generations are struggling to put the cellphone aside and create interpersonal empathy.

The addiction in apps is real. Apps like Instagram are needed for personal validation. It's a "moment of pure trekking ecstasy," Mary Pilon says.

In my opinion, it's not wrong to use and explore these online tools. What is wrong is to allow these tools to represent our daily happiness. I heard before "the internet has the answer for everything," but I question: it really has? Communicating mostly on the internet can make people more vulnerable in relationships requiring interpersonal empathy. Meaning is what should drive our emotions. Like Smith says, "Happiness comes and goes, but when life is really good and when things are really bad. Having meaning gives you something to hold on to."

article re-edited on March 28, 2018.


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.

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