I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s contentment that I’m after.  Not happiness, simply, but contentment.  It’s taken me a long time to get to this, but the truth is that “happiness” has never felt like my goal.  Furthermore, it seems impossible to attain.  I could never wish for a permanent smoothing out of my emotional terrain, because I think some (maybe a lot of) sorrow is part of the deal for me.  But I’ve written about a new, sturdy sense of joy that underpins my life in the last year or two, and the best way to describe it is, I think, as contentment.

It was with interest that I read What Selfie Sticks Really Tell Us About Ourselves in the New York Times this summer.  I had recently written my own thoughts on selfie sticks here, after all.

The sentence I kept coming back to was this one:

Interestingly, nonarousing emotions like contentment are negatively associated with sharing selfies or other content.

I love the image of contentment as a “nonarousing emotion” and that is entirely resonant for me.  What I’m after, at this point in adulthood, is a life defined by being peaceful and placid, something I recognize would seem boring to a younger person.

I am on Instagram, I love Twitter, and I’m on Facebook.  I’m certainly not against social media and in some cases it brings me joy.  So I’m not sure how I feel about the assertion that sharing content is associated with “arousing” emotions.  I’m not a big selfie fan (or sharer) but I do share photographs (often of the sky) and tweets.  I also know that nonarousing emotions are what I seek.

Is this inconsistent?  Maybe it is.  After all, I’ve written many times about the famous Whitman lines, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”  I do like some aspects of social media, though not selfies.  I have also never really struggled to put my phone down, in literal and metaphorical ways.  I don’t have a hard time turning away from the online world to engage with the real one, on the whole.  I could definitely do this better – I reckon almost all of us could – but it’s not a source of major tension for me.  Maybe this is part of why I don’t feel super emotionally conflicted about this point.

I don’t have a neat conclusion to this post, but I’m curious about what you think.  Do you agree with the statement that sharing content online – particularly selfies – is negatively correlated with nonarousing emotions?  Do you think being on social media by definition means one leads a less contented life?  I’m not sure, and I’d love to hear your reactions.


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  1. Posted October 21, 2015 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    I think that social media has integrated into our culture in such a way that it can’t possibly be linked to an less contented life. And in doing so, there’s all sorts of judgement being passed in terms of the motives behind social media users. Some of course use because they are bored, others for connection. Recently I’m feeling like we can’t look at social media and our devises as this other entity, but really, it’s a part of our life, in how we see the world and connect with others and go about our daily life (It’s astonishing how many times a day we ask google things around here!). There’s much to think about here… (I’m procrastinating like crazy, so thank you for your post this morning!)

    admin Reply:

    Yes. Much to think about. And I suspect the answer for each person is different, and we all have our individual thresholds for what works and what doesn’t. And, of course, we can all opt out of following people whose feeds don’t work for us. Such is the beauty of social media, no? xox

  2. Andrea
    Posted October 21, 2015 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I recently took facebook off of my phone for the month for September. I found it hard for 3-4 days, and it made me realize how I fill the empty moments just dumbly scrolling. And I enjoyed having empty moments to just sit and think, and notice whats around me. I also was far, far more productive at home at at work, which certainly makes me feel more content.

    Something that really made me think was that I found I reached out to friends by phone or text more often when I was without facebook. I think scrolling through someones facebook page makes you feel like you are connected to them, but its such a false sense of connection.

    With this said, I did realize how much I depend on facebook for news- PTO news for my girls school, for example as well as news related to the industry I work in. So its back on my phone but I am quite conflicted about it. I think I’m happier without it, but do feel I need it.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. I know just what you mean. I think there is a real loss as we find the “white space” of life now filled with what can be really mindless scrolling. But I also recognize how much of modern life requires some presence on these channels. There must be a way to do it without losing that downtime. xx

  3. Posted October 21, 2015 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    I probably told you about my FB break (I tell everyone). It was going to be just a few weeks but has turned into a few months. I came back there last week to share an essay because a good friend complained she never knows what’s going on with me now that I’m not sharing on FB. It might seem silly to keep a whole social network going just to maintain contact with one friend, but I’ve known her since we were four years old, so if this technology advancement helps us, I guess that’s a good thing.
    As for contentment, I absolutely love the idea of it being a “non-arousing” emotion. Although it might be confirmation bias talking, I do think I’m content when I am present in my life, which for me means a concerted effort to balance social media with screen-less activities. Everything in moderation!

    admin Reply:

    Agree with you. Moderation is perhaps the key to it all!! xoxo

  4. Posted October 21, 2015 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Eerie that you are talking about contentment because my post tomorrow touches on this theme (in a different way). I read your post earlier this AM, and in the meantime I’ve come to realize that I think there is some truth to that statement about selfies and nonarousing emotions. I don’t think it applies to the (very) occasional selfie (I’ve done 2 or 3 over the past few months myself), but certainly the regular selfies. I feel similarly about folks who post a lot of images that represent their acquisition of material things and living a certain lifestyle. Unfair judgement? Perhaps. But I cannot see beyond what I think motivates that kind of stuff, which to me seems like a thread of unhappiness on some level(s). I could go on, but I’ll spare you. 🙂

    admin Reply:

    Don’t spare me. I suspect we have similar views on this. Look forward to your post tomorrow. xoxox

  5. Posted October 21, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I think the thing that most often causes me great pain and frustration is the pervasive theme of judgement. How can we judge how others seek contentment or joy? How is that my pursuit of something can be so distressing to someone else? My happiness, contentment, or entertainment is mine, it shouldn’t match everyone else’s, that would be a bizarre reality.

    One person not participating on social media doesn’t make them superior, just as the content of what we choose to read doesn’t make us more or less intelligent.

    I wish for a place and time that invites less apology and attacks, instead creating space and elasticity for people to move and grow as they evolve.

    I’m ranting now, sorry.

    admin Reply:

    Not ranting. And as i said in my email, I hope this post doesn’t come across as judgy. I sincerely don’t mean it that way. My inquiry was genuine. I think that it all comes down to choice: we can choose what we share, as well as what we consume, comment on, and like. That’s all the judging I’m personally interested in doing. xox

  6. Posted October 21, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate what Amanda said about judgment. Every time I see blanket negative articles about selfies and those who take/post them, I think about my dear friend Vivienne McMaster whose Be Your Own Beloved movement (and classes) have helped hundreds if not thousands of women see themselves with more kindness and acceptance by using the selfie as a tool for self-love and self-care. That possibility almost never gets mentioned. I also think there’s something important in the balance between visually being in the story of our lives (in pictures, whether we take them ourselves or not) and being present with our own eyes, without the aid of a lens (or a filter). It can be too easy to take pictures of a sunset instead of being present with the beauty of the sunset.

    I also think contentment is a beautiful thing, though it doesn’t necessarily jive with our culture’s tendency toward “bigger, better, faster, more!”

  7. Posted October 22, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Permalink


    Your piece comes at an opportune time for me. The other day a loved one questioned my emotions and asked, “Don’t you want to be happy?” My response – “I am not seeking happiness. I am striving for peace and contentment.” The premise of happiness is laced with so many expectations. Focusing on being is an easier texture for me. And sorrow I’ve learned is also a part of my marrow. It pushes me to appreciate the moments of joy even more.

    Thanks for writing this post. It made me feel less alone. xo

  8. Posted October 23, 2015 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Just read this quote from an interview with Terry Gross and it made me think of you and this post:

    “Across from me, Gross was serene. ‘‘I don’t know if it’s a function of age or temperament,’’ she said, ‘‘but I’m no longer seeking those major exclamatory notes of pleasure. I want a life that has pleasure contained within it.’’

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I love this. Thank you for sharing. I agree entirely.

  9. Posted October 25, 2015 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    “…a life defined by being peaceful and placid…” Yes! Oh, I love that line. We’re on our way back from a wedding, and the couple was twenty-something. I have to agree, they would find this boring. So many selfies last night. I felt very out of my element.

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