A funny thing happened when my mum discovered Instagram. She rang me up, breathless with excitement, to tell me how happy she was to see that I was living such a wonderful life.
The phone call came while I was cruising the aisles of my local Woolies, which made her comment feel even more absurd. But as she gushed about the amazing lifestyle I led (see heavily filtered beach/sunrise/smoothie snaps) and the adventures I take (shout-out to that work trip to the Cook Islands), it dawned on me that Mum was seeing my life the way I’ve forgotten to: with gratitude.
Okay, yes, what my mum might have missed is that my Insta account is a carefully edited version of my life – I don’t post the long, frazzled hours at my desk, I upload my after-work sunset stroll on the beach. But, even filtered, cropped and curated, it’s still my life. And, holy macaroni, isn’t that the point? If I’m finding material for shiny, happy missiles on a regular basis, my life probably is pretty great, grocery bags and all.
Hack social media for good
We all know there’s a dark side to social media – it presents an irresistible opportunity to play the comparison game, and there are no winners there, especially when the playing field is rigged with editing apps and Photoshop. “Smartphones and social media are a blessing and a curse. If we’re not careful, they can consume us,” acknowledges psychologist Dr Lauren Tober. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hack its powers for good.
My mum’s enthusiasm woke me to the positives of my Instagram habit – that what I’ve really created in my hyper-coloured grid is a visual diary of people I love, things I’ve achieved, and moments I’ve cherished. It’s a gratitude journal that I didn’t even know I was keeping.
“Smartphones and social media are a blessing and a curse. If we’re not careful, they can consume us.”
Dr Tober is already wise to Insta’s potential to get you feeling #blessed – she’s created a movement called Capturing Gratitude, encouraging people around the world to use photography and social media to enhance their happiness, rather than diminish it.
“In Capturing Gratitude, we use our cameras as a way to capture a moment in time that we’re grateful for. It’s a creative mindfulness practice that supports us to pause in our busy day and focus our attention on gratitude,” she explains. “So much of the time we’re focused on things that aren’t good in our lives. By taking a photograph of something that we’re grateful for, we’re being present in the moment and acknowledging the perfection and profound blessing that the moment holds.”
If the cynic in you isn’t convinced, it might help to know that science supports the idea of getting snap happy. Gratitude practices of various forms have been linked to a long list of wellbeing benefits, from the physical (better sleep, less illness, reduced physiological signs of stress) to the emotional (more happiness, joy and optimism, increased resilience and connection with others). The positive effects kick in immediately, according to one 2005 study, and the gains can stick around for a month or more.
“From my own gratitude photography practice, I’ve found a deep and unshakeable sense of joy and contentment. It helps me to appreciate everything I have in my life, and to cope when life feels complicated and challenging,” says Dr Tober.
World Gratitude Day
Want in? World Gratitude Day is on Thursday, September 21, so it’s the perfect time to try putting a thankful lens on your Instagram. “I suggest starting by setting yourself a goal to take at least one photograph each day of something that you’re grateful for,” Dr Tober says. “This will get you looking for things to be grateful for, and this orientation to seek out gratitude is an important part of the process.”
Pausing to compose and snap the image is a form of creative mindfulness, she explains, allowing you a moment to consider how the subject makes you feel. Sharing it online creates a ripple of positivity among your networks, and, crucially, a digital record you can refer back to when you need a pick-me-up.
“One of things I hear over and over again from people who take part in Capturing Gratitude is that they’ve found a way to authentically share their life with others online,” Dr Tober adds. “Sharing gratitude photography is a very real way to connect with others meaningfully and wholeheartedly.” Good for you and good for your mum.