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I’ve been looking through strangers’ windows lately.
I know that sounds kind of stalkerish. And it’s true, but not exactly how it sounds.
See, I joined this Facebook group called “View from My Window,” where a couple million users from across the entire globe, post and react to pictures that others share of the views from their quarantine windows.
It’s fascinating and gorgeous and heartbreaking and thought provoking.
There are mostly photos of magnificent vistas - I mean, if you think about it, you’re probably more likely to submit if you can capture and boast sandy beaches and glassy oceans, palm trees and lush greenery, majestic mountains, or vibrant gardens. There are also some city-scapes, unique architecture, and exotic wildlife (like kangaroos and tuna-eating squirrels).
And there are some brick walls, dilapidated buildings, homey backyards, and nondescript street views. Some pics feature photobombing pets and other comical obstructions.
There are also captions and thousands of comments - little biographical snippets, sharing story-bytes to accompany the visual. Some are simply explanatory, others playful, and still others poignant, such as:
“My wife and I like to sit on this veranda at sunset, sipping iced tea, listening to the waves on one side, and saluting the medical personnel at the hospital on the other side. It’s quiet here, we are slowly healing from the sudden loss of our only daughter last year. We love seeing and hearing from everyone else who is sheltering in place and send our prayers and blessings for safety and good health.”
I’m always amazed at how sometimes just a few black and white letters and can easily elicit tears.
Depending on my mood, I have different reactions to these breathtaking views. Usually I just appreciate the beauty and diversity. But sometimes I get wistful - thinking: “Wow there is so much exquisite nature to see in the world, and we only live once. (Y’know- like the kids say: WOLO. I’m totally with it.)” And then I’m like: “Maybe we should relocate to someplace more like that.”
One member sarcastically commented: “Wow! I never realized what a huge percentage of the population lived in post-card scenic locations! I guess I’m the only one facing a concrete courtyard.”
Social media gets a bad rap for being a skewed representation of life: a photoshopped, filtered, curated distortion of the real, gritty business of living. “We only see the highlight reel, not the bloopers and fails,” they (constantly) say. Well, of course we do. And people say that this “makes them feel bad” about themselves. They get nervous that they’re missing out on stuff (that’s called “NOMO” – I’m totally down with the acronyms.)
I see it a little differently.
Even before the internet, we didn’t usually take pictures of the mess, (especially when we had limited rolls of film - anyone remember those days?). We took photos on those occasions when we were dressed up and posing all nice and pretty. We all realized this. No one ever thought that the smiling framed snapshots on the piano meant that my toddlers didn’t ever tantrum. No one thinks I wear my wedding dress on the regular. (I could barely handle it that once.)
Pictures on display are meant to capture those special moments when things look great, because every healthy honest human knows that they are the minority.
Most of life is messy, process.
We spend time preparing the meal, spend time eating and cleaning up after the meal, but the meal only looks appetizing and plated for a minute or two in between. That’s how it goes.
Looking out the window, toward (specific) distance, is more scenic than looking in.
We also know that some views are embellished. My eyelashes look longer when I wear mascara, but I don’t think that makes me inauthentic. And we know that sometimes smiles hide pain within. But I think it’s OK to believe that some of the good pics we see are legit. (Is it so terrible if other people are fortunate? Well, only if we use that fact as a weapon to beat ourselves up with.)
It’s human nature to feel jealous sometimes. It’s also incredibly not fun and unhelpful to hang out in that head-space for too long – it’s not great for us, or for anyone else.
Like it says in Ethics of the Fathers: “Jealousy, lust, and [chasing] honor, removed a person from the world.” If we are busy pining after what we don’t have, we are not present with the world we actually inhabit.
But what is the alternative? After all, we’re bombarded with all these shiny “perfect looking” images and impressions - isn’t it natural to feel disheartened, inferior, or envious? Yes. But bad breath is natural too. And what do we do? We brush our teeth (and floss, and mouthwash, etc.) We don’t just walk around being gross; we clean up. The oral hygiene equivalent of jealousy, I think could be: self-awareness.
When we’re looking through others’ proverbial windows, we can examine our natural responses.
If our reactions are negative, we can either look elsewhere (no one is forcing us to be on social media, or to follow specific accounts. But I prefer not to run away from the trigger.)
Check out these examples:
Someone posts something that looks wonderful, we can have one of several reactions:
Wow - my window view is so wimpy compared to theirs. Poor me.
That’s probably fake. Or they’re probably miserable behind that pretty exterior.
Oh - what a lovely view they have. So nice for them. So enjoyable to see this.
It must be really nice to live someplace that beautiful. Maybe one day I could try to visit or even move someplace like that.
See how the first two examples sound sad and grumpy, while the second two sound generous and hopeful? We can actually do that shift in our heads, on purpose.
We can choose to move from jealousy to being “happy for” and inspired.
And if we can’t in that moment, we can redirect our attention to something else. When we really find someone’s sharing style consistently braggy to the point of irritation, we can always choose to unfollow or just swipe along.
We can know that what we see on social media (and even in real life) is not the full story - that every single person has dirty laundry and dishes as part of the reality of living. Being authentic doesn’t obligate anyone to showcase their whole bumpy process, although some choose to do so. And part of being healthy means I can see the beauty through someone else’s window, and (try to!) choose not to let it block my own view, but instead, let it inspire me to rejoice for them and/ or strive for more myself.
[For more on trying to healthify comparisons, check out this video and lemme know what you think! Cuz I’m thinking of doing a YouTube channel. I mean, I technically have one, but like, I’m thinking of using it for real. I’d love your thoughts. I also discuss this more in my book.]
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So - what do you think, e-friend? Ready to subscribe to my exclusive e-mail content?
Sending warmth through your figurative (or Microsoft) windows,
P.S. In case you are looking for ways to promote your own well-being, in general, but especially now, feel free to check out this latest blog post, Are You Starting to Lose It?inspired by a Q & A panel I did this week for the Jewish Women’s Entrepreneur Group.