(ANTIMEDIA) Facebook has been under fire for quite some time. From its controversial algorithms that segregate people according to their political ideologies to their collusion with government intelligence agencies and corrupt mainstream media organizations, the behemoth social media platform is repeatedly the target of widespread criticism from many corners of the internet.
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But Facebook recently did something positive. For Mother’s Day this year and last year, they added a special reaction emoji to their list of selections: in addition to love, like, “wow,” “haha,” sad, and angry reaction options, they added a flower. The flower stood for being thankful.
For several days, Facebook users were able to express gratitude for posts they liked by selecting an aesthetically pleasing purple blossom to react to posts. Unfortunately, however, just as they did last year, Facebook removed the option just days after the holiday passed (fun fact: one of the earliest intentions of Mother’s Day was to protest war).
Many Americans and Facebook users around the world are well aware of the abyss of negativity the platform fosters. Individuals spout off angry opinions into a cacophony of other enraged perspectives, screaming at each other, insulting each other, and often wishing terrible things upon strangers they’ve never met and never will meet. Though it’s not Facebook’s fault that humanity is in turmoil, their own algorithmic behavior and, consequently, contributions to societal divides are undeniable.
That’s why the thankful flower was so important, and why it’s a mistake for the platform to make it disappear. Gratitude is one of the most effective emotions and practices for cultivating happiness and well-being, as well as relating to others, and this has been demonstrated in many instances.
Though being grateful is usually relegated to the Thanksgiving holiday and yoga and meditation practices, even mainstream business-oriented outlet Forbes has documented the myriad benefits of taking time to be appreciative. In 2014, psychotherapist Amy Morin wrote an article for the outlet listing a variety of benefits that come with practicing gratitude: it has been to linked improved psychological and physical health, increased likelihood of creating ongoing relationships, increased empathy and decreased aggression, enhanced sleep, and higher self-esteem.
World-renowned yoga teacher Bryan Kest, who teaches at his donation-based studio in Santa Monica, almost always closes his 90-minute power vinyasa classes with a meditation on gratitude. As he opens the meditation, he guides his students to focus on the “trillions of reasons” they have to be thankful. Whether it’s having food to eat, a warm bed to sleep in, family, friends, pets, access to nature, or a closet full of clothes — or one of many other reasons he offers his students to ponder — this meditation is wildly popular among those who frequent the studio. This is likely because gratitude is vital to cultivating happiness.
In 2015, a Harvard blog post detailed one study on gratitude:
“After 10 weeks, those who wrote about being grateful were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they had also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
As Facebook continues to be an echo chamber for outrage and venomous interactions, it appears we will have to take it upon ourselves to foster gratitude as the purple flower disappears until next year. One effective way to do so is to make a daily list every evening noting five things you were grateful for throughout the day (or came to be upon making the list). These things can be as simple as having clean water to drink or seeing someone you care about.
Another way to help foster gratitude is to sign up for a free seven-day membership with Bryan Kest’s online archive to access his highly powerful guided meditation (it is part of a long three-part meditation, and monthly membership rates are reasonable and include a vast variety of yoga classes from multiple teachers). Additionally, Insight Timer is a free meditation app that includes several meditations on gratitude, as well as many other helpful guided practices to cultivate well-being and happiness. There are also countless gratitude meditations on Youtube. They vary, so if you find one you don’t connect with, try another!
Just as we cannot expect Facebook to be an arbiter of unbiased truth or fair exposure to independent media, we also cannot expect it to give us ample means to express positive emotions. Luckily, we all have that power within ourselves if we simply step away from our computer screens in favor of getting in touch with practices that can actually help ourselves and our fellow humans — rather than continuing to tumble down the social media abyss at the expense of our own peace of mind.