The Mindfulness of Social Photo Sharing

By Leo Babauta

This week I took a jaunt into the wilderness, and came across such jaw-dropping scenery that my first instinct was to take a picture and share it with everyone I knew.

Then I realized I didn’t have Internet in the Sierra Nevadas, so I just stared at it instead. And wondered.

I’m as prone to social photo sharing as anyone else. I don’t have Instagram or Facebook, but I like to share photos with friends and family on Whatsapp and Snapchat (future readers, those are social sharing apps – in your day I’m guessing they’re called Shizap and FlooPowder). So I don’t judge anyone for wanting to share a photo on Instagram – I understand the urge. We all want to share pics of our awesome vacation, cuddly pets and lovely meals.

But what is this urge based on? And can we bring mindfulness into the process?

As I trudged through pine forests and over granite boulders, I wondered about the urge to share:

I pledged to be mindful of my urge to share, and stay with this urge whenever I noticed it. Which was at least hourly over the two days I was hiking.

Here’s what I learned.

Banning the phone can help. By not allowing myself to take my phone out every time I had the urge to share something beautiful … I had no outlet for this urge. It caused me to feel a bit helpless at first. Then I started to stay with the urge. What was causing it? What did it feel like, physically in my body? What fears were coming up? What good-hearted intentions could I find?

By not giving myself an outlet, I allowed myself to explore with curiosity.

We want ourselves to look awesome. We’re social animals, so it makes sense that we want to look good in the eyes of others. We want them to think we’re living good lives, that we’re exploring the outdoors or traveling to new places or somehow finding a sense of awe in our lives. Photo sharing is a way of sharing that sense of awe, but also to let others know that we are awesome for finding these awe-inspiring moments.

I’m not saying anything bad about this desire to look good to others. Some might judge it, but I think it’s natural and normal. We wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have this desire, and those who say they don’t have the desire are probably not being honest with themselves. So what if we have this urge?

But what we can also realize is that we don’t need this. We can find happiness without having to show others how great we are. Of course, I’m negating that very statement by writing a blog post about it, so take this all with a grain of salt!

We want our friends and loved ones to enjoy it too. We made an amazing discovery … and we want other people to be inspired by this awesomeness. We want them to have this awesomeness in their lives. They might get so excited they’ll travel to this place too! And that is a good-hearted desire, this wanting to give what we’ve found to others.

I know I have been inspired by other people sharing their stories, travels, adventures with me. I’ve found good information from what they’ve shared. I’ve even been moved to travel to these places myself. So there’s good-heartedness there, and it is helpful. Still, there are others who are bothered by all the good things people share – they feel that it’s some sort of bragging, and might feel jealousy. It’s worth contemplating what kind of effect your sharing might have.

This moment is entirely enough. If you come across a gorgeous forest of pine trees, it can feel so amazing that you feel a need to share it. Why? Why do we need to add the act of sharing to the already great moment? What I forced myself to reflect on, as I ran into these breath-taking scenes, was whether the moment was already enough without the sharing. And it was. Repeatedly.

We can enjoy this moment without sharing it with anyone. We can appreciate it for all its beauty without needing anyone else to do so too. We can be alone in our appreciation, without needing someone to join us. It might feel incomplete without sharing it, but it’s not. It’s complete and wonderful just as it is.

Sharing is a way to deal with the overwhelming feeling of excitement. When we find a majestic view of mountains in the sunset … it can be so lovely, so moving … that we feel the need to deal with this overwhelming feeling somehow. When we share a photo, this is our way of coping with this feeling that overwhelms us. I couldn’t share it with anyone, so sometimes I would yell out loud in joy.

But other times I would just turn inward and notice this overwhelming feeling of joyfulness. I noticed how strong the feeling was, and how strong was my urge to deal with it in some way. How do we deal with powerful feelings? By taking action, usually. What if we just stayed with the feelings, noticed how they feel, faced them with courage, explored them with curiosity? This is harder than most people realize, but doable.

And what happens when we stay with the feelings … is that we realize we can handle them, without needing to take action. We can find the courage to stay. We can just sit and do nothing. It’s a brave way to live, this facing without running.

I’m not advocating you stop sharing. I’m not a technology-phobe. I am simply recommending inserting a dose of mindfulness into the process.

Note: If you’d like to dive into mindfulness, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness here.