Culture

Taking Pictures For Instagram Is Scientifically Proven To Reduce Your Enjoyment In What You're Doing

By Andrea Mew
·  9 min read
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“But first, let me take a selfie” has a whole new meaning if we stick to supermodel Emily DiDonato’s social media strategies.

With an ever-growing list of countries opening back up to tourism after on-and-off travel restrictions during Covid-19 lockdowns, many Americans have got the travel bug. In fact, nearly a fourth of Americans reported that travel was the number one thing they missed during lockdowns. Whether you’re looking forward to sunny summertime travel or a cozy, snow bunny ski trip, you might be itching to get your bags packed to go explore the world. 

Inevitably, you’ll spend plenty of time picking out the perfect streetwear to strut around Paris or cute bikinis to take a dip in the Mediterranean. Hold up! Before you center your entire travel plans around what will make the most Insta-worthy recap for your followers, you should know that prioritizing photos first instead of living in the moment might just leave you feeling empty…and science backs this up.

For Real-Time Enjoyment, Put the Camera Phone Down

Our smartphone habits are getting worse and worse as time goes on. Surveys reveal that Americans check their phone an average of 344 times a day (or once every four minutes) and, of that time spent on the phone, data suggests we average about two and a half hours of social media use. You know what that amounts to? Nearly 15% of your waking hours on social media. If you’ve ever checked your Screen Time in the settings on your smartphone, you can get weekly reports that show just how often you’re scrolling through a social media platform. Perhaps your number even exceeds that two and a half hours.

Maybe your screen time doesn’t exceed the recent averages, but in any case, more people are turning to social media apps to fill up space in their day which they may have used in the past to have a verbal conversation with their friends or family, read a chapter or two of a book or some articles in a print magazine, do some self-care, or anything in between. 

You might not be a full-fledged addict to that social media high, but you’re likely among the group of Americans growing more and more distracted by social media apps like Instagram. What are your friends up to in real-time? You can live vicariously through their beautifully tailored Stories at local cafés or the Reels and Feed posts of influencers who get paid to travel to picturesque locations and look good while doing it.

Americans check their phone an average of 344 times a day, which is about once every four minutes.

If you’re inundated with other people living out a picture-perfect life, I don’t blame you for feeling like you should live up to those expectations. It’s easier now than ever before to be a competent photographer, so understandably when you travel and snap some shots for your own personal memories you’d want to post them as well. If you want to get the most out of your trip (and your daily life experience in general) you may want to reconsider your motivations when taking pictures out and about, however, because psychological research has shown that people tend to have more fun while traveling when they’re not taking photos.

The researchers investigated why “highly enjoyable hedonic experiences” might not actually be enjoyable if you’re constantly taking pictures with the intention of uploading them to social media later. All signs point to the hypothesis that you might fail to experience the full scope of a moment if you’re in a constant endeavor to document your lifestyle for “self-presentational concern.” The principle is simple, really. Don’t get so distracted trying to document how beautiful the garden is and how much fun you’re having, actually let the beauty register in your sight and let the fun experiences happen organically.  

Look, I’m not trying to rain on your parade. I love taking photos while traveling just as much as the next girl. On our honeymoon, my husband and I collectively took more photos than we probably needed to, but we made sure that – as often as possible – we put our phones away and lived in the moment. As a result, I was more fulfilled by the excursions we took and didn’t feel guilty posting photos later on.

Pause… Then Post!

Supermodel Emily DiDonato boasts a 2.6M following on Instagram, and if you scroll her feed for even a moment, you’ll understand why. She’s a glowing beauty, she’s often photographed in aesthetically pleasing locations, and her lifestyle looks envious to say the least. On her YouTube channel, DiDonato has detailed the tips and tricks she has cultivated to look good in all her photos, pose like a pro, and be your best location scout. 

From shooting during golden hour to being on the hunt for cute backgrounds, she has her technique nailed down. Based on her seemingly perfect feed, you might be surprised to learn that one of her top tips is to actually get photos out of the way first-thing when you arrive at a restaurant, coffee shop, or any other location. DiDonato shared that if she is taking a picture while out in public, she’ll get it out of the way quickly and then put her phone down.

“I just feel a little bit more relieved and know that I have a photo that I can post a little bit later, and I can be present where I am,” DiDonato stated.

There’s an understandable amount of pressure for someone like DiDonato to snap a shot if she’s at a photo-worthy location (I mean, she gets paid to be photographed in public, after all), but I encourage you to dig down deep and ask yourself what your return on investment is after posting your own pics.

Whether you realize it or not, social media exploits any feelings of loneliness you may have. You don’t want to feel socially isolated, so you turn to apps where you can share photos or messages with close friends, family, and total strangers online for affirmation. Turning to digital platforms for validation can be a slippery slope where people go from innocently seeking some simple feedback to a full-fledged unhealthy obsession. After all, external validation is a normal behavior we all developed at a young age to learn how to co-exist with one another.

Don’t start your day with social media because that only furthers the weight you assign to the tech.

You might find yourself wondering how many likes your carousel post got after mere minutes. You might refresh your feed, hoping to see someone’s comments telling you how beautiful you look. An influx of retweets, shares, likes, followers, subscribers, and any other vanity metric might make you feel good in the moment, but why does research suggest that long-term, heavy usage of social media makes us actually feel more depressed and anxious?

Over 20% of social media users have reported that posting about their life is one of their main reasons for using social media, and 47% say they use it to keep in touch with their friends and family. But what if those lines are actually more blurred than we think? Using social media for external validation, whether it’s among your closest friends and family or distant connections, is considered to be as addictive as a drug. The positive feelings you get in the immediate moment are short-lived because they don’t come from within yourself, they come from other people giving you a quick bit of reassurance.

Self-Validate Before You Seek Approval from Others

Especially if you’re already out and about, living life, and exploring fascinating places, there are endless ways to validate yourself sans social media attention. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t post your aesthetic pics, but you should give yourself a chance to relish the moment before you relish the temporary clout you might earn by taking and posting them for attention-seeking purposes. 

Start by practicing mindfulness and counting your blessings while you live in the moment. If you’re in a beautiful café drinking a notably delicious Americano, take a moment to ponder your gratitude. Perhaps that looks like writing down a little note or perhaps that looks like saying a quick prayer. Whatever form that moment of gratitude takes, let it ground you before you get caught up capturing the moment for other people’s eyes to see.

Instead of measuring your value in post reactions, comments, shares, views, or follows, clinical psychologists believe that, while you don’t have to opt out of social media entirely, you should try the following practical strategies to reduce your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): Don’t start your day with social media because that only furthers the weight you assign to the tech. Set boundaries and have some balance where you take regular digital detoxes, whether that’s in hourly increments, daily increments, or longer. Build meaningful relationships with people (who you may follow on social media as well) and spend unplugged time with them.

Closing Thoughts

When you reduce the amount of recognition you seek online, you’ll likely start to recognize your own unique identity. Think about how taking pictures intentionally for Instagram might actually be you trying to please others instead of doing it for yourself. Be a bit more selfish with who gets your attention and let that someone be you. There’s no shame in enjoying a beautiful place or feeling extra cute and wanting to share photos from your day, but for optimal mental health outcomes, you probably shouldn’t allow other people’s thoughts and opinions to be your motivation to post them. 

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