I Used Instagram As A Gratitude Diary For A Week—Here’s How It Felt
Who Is Social Media For, Anyway?
Lurking on social media is one of my official pastimes—I am stealthy, and often undetected. Does anyone else not tap “like” when they do, in fact, like something?
Instagram is built on the desire to be a “fly on the wall.” And while I’m sheltered within my own walls during COVID-19 social distancing, the app provides an open window. I read my Instagram feed like a giant collective journal written by people I love and admire; but rarely do I use it as my own.
I recently started wondering what my relationship with the app might look like if I used it more frequently, and with purpose. I’ve written about creating a more intentional approach to Instagram before, but since social distancing began, I believe we’ve entered into a new era of social media. My feed has changed from people striving for more and better to people working with what they have and, dare I say it, being who they are. Suddenly, social media feels a lot more honest.
Because of that, I decided to start being more honest with myself: Is my Instagram an attempt to prove who I am, or is it a reflection of what I love? Can I use it to supplement my own joy, rather than to force an aesthetic of happiness? Someone else telling me that they like me feels lovely, but it’s not a replacement for me liking myself.
In an effort to support my own joy, I decided to use Instagram to catalog the things I like (not the things I think other people might like). It was a refreshing change of pace!
The Gratitude Journal Challenge
I process most of my feelings through writing, but I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and process my gratitudes through imagery. So, for one week, I posted two images a day using the hashtag #tgtjournal (you can use this too!). They were all in real-time, so the challenge was to stop and note something I was grateful for right then and there. The accountability of social media was a gentle reminder to continue noting things I was thankful for.
The first several days were full of worry about the photo quality, writing funny captions, and wondering if all my friends would unfollow me in a fit of annoyance. I chose filters to conceal my acne and cropped photos carefully to hide the clutter in my home. I worried my aesthetic wasn’t minimalist enough—I don’t have handmade ceramics, or white walls, or crisp monochrome rugs. I thought about faking it.
I give myself an “A” for effort and a “C-” for authenticity on those early days.
As the week progressed, I loosened my grasp on what I considered Instagram-worthy. I realized that my aesthetic couldn’t possibly be neutral (because I have a pink apartment, rainbow rugs, pink hair, I could go on). Instead, I leaned into the colorful chaos of my home and began to embrace the images as they were. My editing process became more about making the colors true-to-life than being light and bright and airy.
My followers (all 600 of them) hardly noticed, but I enjoyed the increased frequency of interaction. I found that when my face was in a photo, my meager followers reacted more positively—whether or not my PMS acne was present. So I asked my husband to take pictures of me for my gratitude journal, which felt a little like self-acceptance. For someone who says she did this for herself, I still felt heartened and encouraged by the comments from friends.
By day seven, I was on my way to being well-trained in searching for the beauty in every moment of my routine. Everywhere I looked, I discovered vignettes that made me feel warm and supported. The morning light in my kitchen felt different; the mess my pet rabbits made suddenly felt worthwhile. Occasionally I caught myself taking it too seriously and took the silliness in stride. I even planned a photo walk with the explicit intention of reflecting on my gratitudes while I wandered the quiet streets of my neighborhood.
When the evening moved past perfect natural lighting, all the pretenses of making a pretty picture flew out of my north- and south-facing windows. The point was no longer to take the best picture possible but to focus my attention on something that mattered to me. And isn’t there a larger lesson in there somewhere?
Did It Make Me Feel More Grateful?
Seeing my life through the lens of, well, an actual lens widened my perspective. Since I’m spending about 22 hours or more of my time inside my apartment these days, it’s easy to overlook things in this space that support me. This exercise invited me to look at what my life is full of, rather than what’s missing from it. It was also a powerful reminder to be grateful for the things that could change at any moment: my home, my financial security, my health, and the health of my loved ones.
There were still days of disappearing into a black hole of self-pity, where I felt convinced there was nothing to be grateful for. I gently reminded myself of the commitment I made and took a photo of the sparkling water I was drinking. As I wrote the caption, I realized how many gratitudes the image captured: a painting I love, a bust of a comic book character, thriving houseplants. There are more, even within that small square. Taking those 15 minutes to identify a gratitude, take a photo of it, and upload it with a simple hashtag turned out to be a reset button for my wallowing brain.
I’m still posting using the hashtag to remind myself that it’s not just the pretty things that we should be grateful for. And it’s not just things, either. I have a home that supports me, a neighborhood that energizes me, hobbies that remind me of who I am.
When I open up my profile page, I’m less focused on how polished it looks. Instead, I see an album of what really matters to me. I enjoy re-visiting the day I discovered gratitude for an old journal, for finding a missing ring, for flowers resting in a Brita pitcher because they were too large for a vase. These photos may not have meaning to you, but they have meaning to me. That’s okay. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about what others believe about me. It’s about what I believe about myself.
So I invite you: to let your guard down a little. In lieu of a comment, take some time to post something that you’re grateful for and tag it with #tgtjournal. Share something that speaks to you without the worry of what others will think about it. I’ll keep an eye out and say hello. 😊
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.