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Facebook inspires status envy

By Sari Zeidler, CNN
August 6, 2012 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
Even if you're in a happy place, a boastful Facebook post can change your mood for the worse
Even if you're in a happy place, a boastful Facebook post can change your mood for the worse
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wedding season brought a string of nuptial-themed posts to Sari Zeidler's Facebook newsfeed
  • Zeidler questioned her life choices when faced with friends' happy status updates
  • Friends agreed that news of weddings, babies and new jobs can cause self-doubt
  • Dr. Joy Browne says putting social media posts in context is key to a healthy attitude

Editor's note: Whatever your stage in life, an ill-timed Facebook post or TMI tweet can deliver a digital hit to your self esteem: whether it's news of an ex getting hitched or photos of someone's too-cute baby. CNN's Jessica Ravitz and Sari Zeidler share their reactions to the phenomenon, and how they talked themselves off the virtual ledge. Read Jessica Ravitz's take here.

(CNN) -- Has your Facebook feed become a gauzy parade of white gowns and veils? You're not alone.

Those status updates that declare undying love, with pictures to prove it, can stop you in your tracks.

Suddenly the life that was keeping you completely contented only moments ago looks like a series of doors shutting in your face.

As a single 27-year-old career woman, the summer wedding season brought it home for me. It wasn't the seemingly endless slew of princess gowns and big, shiny rocks dominating my newsfeed per se. Sure, I'll admit to a touch of dress envy. But it's nothing that an online shopping session can't fix. It's not even that I'm lonely. I've long prided myself on my bravery and willingness to try new things.

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In pursuit of my dream career, I have moved to new cities by myself, met amazing people, had exciting experiences and even got some world travel in along the way. I love my life and the choices I've made.

Yet as the smiling faces of girls in white dresses I hadn't seen since high school stared at me from my computer screen, I couldn't help but feel I was suddenly looking at the path I hadn't taken. I love the choices I've made, but did I regret some of them?

"I, unlike the Facebook updates in regards to weddings and babies have spent my 20s going to grad school, teaching both overseas/out of state and traveling," an old college friend recently wrote me. "Despite being content and loving it (most of the time), it's easy to question your lifestyle when you see those around you (via facebook) settling down and choosing different paths, leaving you to question your own."

"The newsfeed crushes my soul on a daily basis," said another friend whose wedding pics I recently ogled on Facebook. "Between the babies and people getting to travel to awesome places that I cannot afford, it drives me nuts. Also the awful girl from undergrad who currently has my dream job/life and frequently posts about how awesome it is...."

She's got a point. It's not only the weddings, but the awesome jobs and enviable social lives. Oh, right, and the babies.

I'm lucky not to feel the twinges of baby envy yet. In fact, while the giggling, gurgling, smiling faces are cute, seeing them on my newsfeed helps put my own choices in perspective. What's right for someone else probably isn't right for me. Not right now, anyway.

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The conclusion my friend helped me draw was a good one. For every profile I stalk that makes me contemplate the choices I did or didn't make, someone out there may be thinking the same thing about my latest vacation photos or newest bylines.

So what gives? Are we all doomed until we delete our accounts?

Maybe, says Dr. Joy Browne, radio host and licensed clinical psychologist.

"When people who are like us seem to be getting something we want there is certainly a tinge, but we like them for other reasons." If a friend calls to say she is engaged, promoted, packing up to spend a month in India, it is normal to feel jealous, Brown said. But the intimacy of true friendship often mitigates whatever unpleasant feelings may creep up when you hear something good is happening to someone else.

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With Facebook, that true intimacy isn't there, Brown said. "If you got engaged, you'd certainly call a limited number of people and they'd be happy for you." Instead, Facebook creates what Browne calls pseudo-intimacy. A global posting board for those you kind of know or once knew to list their achievements neatly for you to ponder and compare with your own.

"It's a public forum for what is basically private information," Brown said.

Another friend told me Facebook has made her compare the life she has to one she left behind. "Just seeing so many from grade school going through big life changes and it makes you question what you're doing," she said. "I see people buying houses and I am still throwing my money away on rent. But I think that is normal when you live in a city and come from a small town."

Another friend said, "Facebook, the good, lets me feel like I'm still in the loop with everyone. I know where people went on someone's birthday, or who got what job or went on what vacation without having to actually be there. Facebook, the bad, gives you that fear of missing out. Or the fear that I made the wrong choice in moving. This feeling usually comes around big holidays or events like a birthday or the million wedding things that are going on."

To combat these feelings, Browne said, "my first suggestion is you don't use Facebook as your primary barometer of how your life is going. You just don't have enough underpinning to evaluate the statements."

As for dealing with the jealously that can crop up while cruising Facebook, my friends recommended stepping away from the computer and soaking in some sunshine or a spending time with nonvirtual people, to keep things in perspective.

So now when Facebook makes me long for someone else's fairy tale, I just remember that life is full of give and take, luck and circumstance, decisions carefully weighed, successes and struggles. A status update isn't your life story.

Have you been punched in the gut by Facebook? Share what sparked your strong social media reaction in the comments section below.

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