(#4) Lessons from Africa

Plot twist: I’ve never been to Africa.

Yo! A couple days ago I was listening to one of Tim Ferriss’ most recent podcasts (big shocker I know) with Patrick Collison. Patrick and his brother co-founded the company Stripe, which is an online payment platform worth an estimated $20 Billion. (Yeah, you read that right… homie is my age sitting on a casual $20bil). Tim and Patrick had a fascinating and insightful conversation, and I highly suggest you listen to it. But one thing in particular they almost casually brushed over struck a significant chord in me, and is something extremely telling; I want to share with you what I heard and my subsequent thoughts…

As Tim and Patrick were exchanging stories about their time(s) spent in Africa, Tim shared something he noticed about the people he encountered in Ethiopia: everyone was always smiling. Everyone seemed so happy.

(I’m sure you just had familiar images of African locals with giant, bright smiles flash through your mind. We’ve all seen it!)

After observing this, Tim spoke with a local female and asked her, why…? Why does everyone always have a smile on their face here? Why does everyone seem so happy? Her answer to that question is why I’m writing this post…

She responded with this: “People here are happy until they get a TV.”

Hold up, what? I was not expecting that response, and I’m sure you weren’t either. But please take a second to think about what she said: “People here are happy until they get a TV.”

It comes down to this: exposure and comparison. This lady noticed people in her village, or in Ethiopia, or in Africa I guess, are generally joyful and happy until television exposes them to what they do not have… until television forces them to subconsciously compare themselves to the Kardashians and the Real Housewives of New York… until exposure and comparison rids them of all gratitude and contentment.

This lady’s observation is uber revealing, and applies to us directly.

On average, we spend 135 minutes a day on social media. That’s a lot. That’s over 2 hours of our day spent scrolling through the highlights of other people’s lives. (Ain’t nobody posting the boring, monotonous, uneventful stuff, let’s be real). And we don’t just follow our friends; we are seeing the highlights of celebrities, old classmates, extended family, and random people on the explore page. It’s just highlight after highlight after highlight… but we don’t cognitively process it as such, so we aren’t really aware of the damaging effects. We just scroll mindlessly for two hours with thoughts of, “oh that’s dope!” and “I want one of those!” and “Relationship goals!” and “I wish I had her/his body” and “I would die to travel there...” You can’t tell me you don’t do this. This is facts. Big facts (as the youth would say).

I’m 100% guilty of this.

These false realities depicted by the meticulously curated content gives us a twisted vision of what our life should be like, and what we need to be “happy.” Do you see how damaging this is? The rise of social media is positively correlated with the rise of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Again, big facts.

This exposure to everyone else’s highlights is draining us of the key component to happiness: gratitude.

Without gratitude, our mission to Happiness Land is about as promising as Lebron’s hairline. (Lebron if you ever read this, I’m truly sorry and I love you and will you please be on my podcast?)

Look, I am not saying anything new here. I’m sure if you search, “social media gratitude unhappiness” in Google you’ll find 1,000 other blogs and articles talking about the same things I’m mentioning. But this African lady’s simple yet profound observation is a direct testament to the psychologically damaging effects of social media, and it hit me right in the gut.

I love social media. I’m not a big Facebook guy, but IG and Twitter are some of my best friends. And I’m not saying we all need to abandon the social media ship, we just need to be aware of what’s occurring here. That’s all. We can’t expect to find happiness if we are constantly being stripped of our gratitude.

So I end with this: what steps can you take to enhance your gratitude?

Let’s chat about it in the comments below…

Much love to you all.


Nick Carlile2 Comments