Stop Crowdsourcing Your Happiness

“You like me!” – Actress Sally Field, 1984 Academy Award acceptance speech

I really want you to like this piece.

I don’t mean that I want you to enjoy it, or to find it enlightening or encouraging or meaningful—those things would all be fine.

No, more than all of that, I want you to like this offering: to click that word or a heart below it, so that I can feel the quick buzz of acceptance here in the palm of my hand a couple hundred miles away. I want the intoxicating, if immediately departing rush of the notification that you liked it, because it feels as though you are liking me—and this kind of being liked really seems to matter to me.

I’m old enough to remember myself before all this; a time when my self-esteem didn’t continually rise and fall based on an invisible army of relative strangers; when my worth wasn’t perpetually shifting data measured in shares and retweets and impressions and emojis.
I can still remember not needing a distant crowd’s consent to feel talented or attractive or funny or good; when the only opinions that really mattered were the ones of those whose names I knew and whose faces I’d sat across from and whose shoulders I rubbed up against as I lived.
I can still remember a me whose identity wasn’t crowdsourced and outsourced.
I think you understand this. I think you’ve noticed the insatiable appetite you have for approval. I think you too have found yourself swept up in the relentless parade of the like-seekers.
We’re all part of the same twirling, posing, boasting, praise-addicted virtual procession.

We pass hours of our days, swiping the refresh feature of this emotional slot machine, waiting for the cheap momentary high of a stranger’s approval. We fish for compliments using pictures of our kids, car seat selfies, and precious bits of our inner selves as bait; sharing and over sharing in the hopes that these things will garner enough accolades to feed us in the moment (hopefully just a bit more than the previous offering did.)

In an exercise of increasing demands and diminishing returns, we want the numbers to be higher than they’ve been before, the comments more effusive, the feedback more complimentary. If not, panic begins to set in—that urgency that says “Your stock is falling, your trend is downward.” And so we take more photos and create more content and share more of ourselves, frantically tossing it all out into the massive din of competing need and hoping it cuts through the noise and declares our relevance. We have become a loud kennel of Pavlov dogs, salivating at the triggering ding of the arriving praise of far away acquaintances when it comes—and barking incessantly until it does.

The immediate high in that second is so great, that we don’t realize that any treasure we believe we find there is fool’s gold; that practically speaking it is quite worthless. These kudos from strangers feel like food for our souls, but they’re ultimately empty calories that taste deliciously sweet upon ingestion, but do nothing to sustain life and vanish quickly.

The first time I went viral was a couple of weeks after being fired. One morning, feeling deflated and unsure, I woke up and did what I’d always done and shared what I had to share in writing with the world. By late afternoon I’d been affirmed by a half million people I’d never met. I received invitations from television producers and journalists, and I trended on social media. On the outside, I was now someone. On the outside my opinion now mattered. On the outside I was suddenly seen as relevant, gifted, noteworthy. But in reality I was still unemployed, still deflated, still unsure. When the crowd departed soon after, I was left to decide who the real me was. Did my anonymity the day before define me, did the notoriety of that day define me—or did I define me whether anyone approved of me or not?

I’m hoping that today you find your happiness outside the response of the crowd; that you find or remember who you are; that you are not burdened with the approval of the world.

Friend, your life is not a Go Fund Me project, awaiting others to ascribe value to it.
Your inherent worth not a Kickstarter campaign, defined by a group of invisible judges you need to win over.
Your beauty is not reflected in your #newprofilepic response. 
Your identity is far more fixed than the momentary fluctuation of likes and retweets of those passing by quickly and from a distance.
You can’t relinquish ownership of yourself to strangers.
You can’t place your worth in the hands of the crowd.
You are already priceless and beautiful and noteworthy without anyone’s approval—especially those whose names your don’t know,  whose faces you’ve never sat across from, and whose shoulders you haven’t rubbed up against as you’ve lived.
You don’t have to crowdsource your self-worth.

Now, if you could—please like this post.

Please like me.

17 thoughts on “Stop Crowdsourcing Your Happiness

  1. Ok, liked 😉

    The flip side of this is that if you can be affected by total strangers in a good way, you can also be affected in a bad way. So, acceptance/affirmation by strangers is good, but rejection is not. The trick is to enjoy the former without letting the latter bother you at all 🙂

    You’re a good man, John 🙂

  2. I recently deleted my facebook account. The withdrawal was somewhat difficult, since I was addicted to those “likes.” I do like this post, very much. The artificial world–or “virtual” world–is not a place to live in; it’s just a place to peek in on once in awhile. Now I’m going to go outside and play with the dog!

    • Congratulations. I haven’t had the courage to delete my account. I simply haven’t shown back up in several months … with the daily notifications someone said something about me, or to me, to remind me the addiction is still there … if I ever want to slip down that slope again.

      Can you remember, once upon a time, when Social Media was supposed to make our lives easier and more orderly? Yeah … like that never happened, at least never to me.

  3. Timely. Do have any idea how long it has been since I could feel content and rest in knowing God loves me, free of the opinions of others? Oh, probably a half hour. 🙂

  4. As Jim David Adkisson famously said:

    “Tell the cop that shot me: Thanks. I needed that.”

    But really, this message was very timely and went straight to the heart of a personal problem of mine that I discussed with a friend this morning—namely—the three things I need most in my life right now are:

    (1) Do my “own thing “in my field of study/work with complete disregard for what other people think about it. It is after all—my work—not theirs—and no matter how good or bad it is—people are going to think whatever they want to think—and many of them will probably be wrong. No. I have not actually received any negative feedback from anyone—but I would like to learn to simply “not care” about what other people think of me. People like Joanne Musto and Joe Catholic are helping me not to care anymore about what other people think. Thanks guys!!!

    (2) Quit seeking approval from other people in my field. The people who like me will still like me. The people who have sh*t for brains are the people most likely to disapprove of me and my work—and who really cares what a pile of cranium poop thinks.

    (3) Quit going back to the desire to be famous in my field of endeavor—like I did in my first two years of college. Never return to that road again. Just do what you reasonably can on the alternative road that you are on now.

    No. Those things have nothing to do with blogging here or on my own blog. They involve a completely different thing going on in my life right now—involving bad memories from 45 years ago in college.

    As the poor Carter kids in my old Tennessee neighborhood used to say—-a few of them had a severe speech impediment—I now say to all of those whose approval I once sought after and badly needed:

    Fuh oo. Sorry muh uh fuh uhs!!!! And that goes for you too Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and Rousas Rushdoony. The Carter kids had you all nailed with the right words from the get go—speech pediment and all.

  5. Years ago someone gave me a little piece of Onyx which reads…People are like stained glass windows
    they glow and sparkle when it’s sunny and bright but when the sun goes down their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. John, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again..I’m so glad you’re on the Planet at this time

  6. Mr. Pavlovitz – I really like this post! Great advice.

    When I look back at my youth I cringe at some of the things I did or thought because I wanted others to like me. Once I started raising a family I only cared about being the best parent I could be and being a good employee.

    I got on Facebook late in the game because my sister-in-law had a stroke and my brother could keep everyone updated on her condition with just one post. I stayed on as a mostly silent onlooker on my family’s posts and friends vacations and grandchildren. I quit last year when things got so ugly. I don’t miss it. I don’t tweet.

    I do post here. I like that it is mostly anonymous and it is a place for me to get my feelings out.

    I learned long ago that you cannot make someone love you or even like you. I have friends that I love and I know they care about me. I do not have a job so I don’t have to worry about keeping a job. My family and friends are my life.

    What I am trying to say is I am who I am. I will give up nothing of myself just so you will like me and I do not expect others to change to be my friend. My mother always said she could be happy if other people acted right. She never realized she was the only one who could make herself happy. Maybe I am just jaded because I feel that depending on others for your happiness seems a recipe for disappointment .

    Peace and happiness

  7. It’s crazy how quickly we can go looking for the likes and the resends–and how quickly the stock value shifts. I think you hit it just right–self esteem like stock trading. Talk about giving your health and power over to other people you don’t even know. Yikes.

    Hugs and have a good one–I needed to read it today.

  8. One of the hardest things as parents to deal with this ‘approval via a click’ World is it is the only one our (younger) children have ever known so it is harder for them to understand your message.

    Life before cell phones?
    Life before texting?
    Life before Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?
    Hell’s Belle’s, I am so old I can recall a life before the internet. We had things called home encyclopedias and local libraries.

    “Mom … Dad … what did you do back then?”
    “Honey, we talked TO PEOPLE … usually a very small number of them.”

  9. I think you are trying to say we all have an intrinsic worth, that what others say is irrelevant. I agree, but I still cherish the 38 responses I got on another web site.

    • I think anyone who has made a pubic speak before a small crowd and been applauded, or placed something on the internet and had more than a 10:1 like to dislike ratio understands. The first rush of “wow, I must be really right/good at this stuff” is heady.

      All too often we start with a safe ideas, or neutral script yet when we start speaking form the heart … the daggers come out … and the desire to silence one’s own contrary feelings rises up within us, even when we know to not speak out is wrong …

      A far brighter man than me said it best ~ to your own heart be true ~

  10. For a chilling look at how far the “like” thing could go, see ‘Black Mirror’, Season 3, Episode 1, “Nosedive”, on Netflix. But beware: most of the ‘Black Mirror’ episodes are nightmarish.

    However, I would note that excessive need for affirmation, and the flip side, the fear of man, didn’t begin with Facebook: it’s perfectly possible to be affected by them without an online presence at all.

  11. bottom Line : Be Content, Be silent, Be Still

    Know that God is Holy , Just , and a rewarder of Faithful Servants of Jesus Christ the Author, finisher of Faith
    Live , Love , Laugh, Cry for God is and alway s will be.
    Jesus Christ died for sinners which we all are.
    No exceptions
    Not one better or worst than the other
    we are all one side or the other
    Saved by grace
    or life in the sin of death
    We choose
    no one else to blame , you choose , and make these choices daily
    Who will you serve : God , Jesus Christ
    Self, Pleasure, sefish ambition

  12. Now you have left me with a quandary . I like this piece and was going to share it but I don’t want to add to your burden 🙂 oh to hell with it – Great writing John I like the piece and for what it’s worth I think you are ok.

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