Proof Positive: Why I’ve Been Trying Not to be a Debbie Downer

Have you ever noticed that the negative Facebook statuses receive far less engagement than the positive ones? Or, if noticing others is too much to ask (I’m not judging, I can be as self-absorbed as the next person), have you ever noticed that when you post a positive status, people are all over it, but when you post a negative one, any interest is superficial at best? Our society has gotten used to being able to post our feelings at the exact moment we’re having them, for better or (more likely) worse.

Instant gratification can be dangerous in social media. I was raised to believe private life should be kept relatively private, and we should be wary of what personal information we discuss with others. In our modern world, it is very much the opposite. We share everything with everyone at any given time.

It is nice to stay connected with people all over the world in real time. As a military kid, I moved a lot. If Facebook or Twitter had been a part of my life at that time, I would still be connected with dozens of amazing people I met during my moves all over the United States. In fact, I love being able to instantly share—some things. Pictures of my daughter, updates about new jobs and educational accomplishments, and love notes posted on my wife’s personal page are all shareables I don’t mind having instant access to. However, I could wait another—let’s say, ten minutes—to share those things. If I was forced to (and could) wait to share the positives, then I should be able to wait to share the negatives as well.

I wonder how much our world would change if Facebook and other social media giants forced a ten minute delay on users. Think about it: we have a nasty argument with our wife, we stomp off to the bedroom where we angrily type up an intellectually stimulating status such as “My wife is so annoying and I can’t believe the things she says to me,” and then Facebook displays a message that tells us our status has been received and will go live in ten minutes. Facebook may have just saved a marriage.

In a society of “now,” we don’t even have time to process our own emotions properly before they end up part of the public domain. In ten minutes, we may still believe our wife is annoying and we might still be dumbfounded by the things she says to us. However, we may no longer be angry enough to tell our entire friends list of 407 people about it. Truthfully, only two of those 407 friends probably even care. If they don’t care about the meatloaf you cooked last night, the one that suspiciously resembled a cat, they certainly don’t care about your domestic differences. It might feel good to post that status to the world, but no one is going to respond genuinely, and our wives are going to charge through bedroom doors across America prepared to throttle whoever they find (but mostly us).

This all dawned on me a few months ago. I realized when I posted a picture of my newborn daughter, shared a meaningful quote or bible verse, promoted a worthy cause, or talked about an upcoming (positive) change in my life, the “likes” and “comments” were rolling in on my newsfeed. However, a mood status of “angry” or “frustrated,” a nasty remark about a car problem, or a vague but obviously depressing status update of any sort would result in…well, nothing usually. Sometimes one person might engage in an attempt to make me feel better, but otherwise, the status went dark.

At this time, I decided to stop posting anything negative on my Facebook feed. From my own status updates, to memes promoting values I didn’t agree with, to mood statuses meant for nothing more than attention, nothing negative made its way onto my personal newsfeed. I tried shutting down Facebook entirely prior to this experiment, but after about three months, I realized I needed the social connections in my life despite all the negativity zinging around. I decided to control the only negativity I really can—my own.

To confirm I haven’t slipped much, I just checked my newsfeed. In the last fifty posts, nothing negative appears. I was fairly sure I’ve been true to this personal commitment. There have been some rough times, which is why I remember the distinct effort to remain positive. After arguments with my wife, when a family member or co-worker was making my eye twitch, or when I just felt sad and wanted to vent, I found myself tempted to post the negative and resisted. This is why I was sure I’d been pretty honest in my assessment of my newsfeed, but it doesn’t hurt to have double-checked.

Engagement in my newsfeed has never been higher. People want to talk to people who are positive, I think. I’m not a scientist and I certainly haven’t conducted any research, but I can see the results in my own life without a degree or training of any kind. Plus, a positive side effect is that the negativity that is still flying all over Facebook that does not originate with me doesn’t bother me quite as much. I brush it off. I scroll past. Sometimes I try to help, but I remember that my own efforts are likely as disingenuous as others’ efforts toward me in the past. The best of intentions doesn’t always beget the best of results.

While I won’t like my readers any less if they continue to give into the whims of an instant gratification society, I’d like to point out this own small effort on my part has been positively rewarding. We do live in a society of “now,” and I’m not proposing massive changes or expecting personalities to mature overnight. Remembering the way many of us were raised can’t be an overall “bad” thing, though, given anyone over the age of twenty-five had parents who believed there was a distinct line between private and public life. Facebook might take some time to check out my post here, too, maybe giving my post delay some serious consideration. Payment for my idea would be boss, also. I don’t expect much. Maybe 2.3 billion dollars or so? I accept cash, all major credit cards, and money orders.

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