Maybe it’s because I’ve had an Instagram account since around the time the app started, where I only followed the only 3 people I knew who had it, but I’ve never associated Instagram to be synonymous with Facebook as a social media platform, the way it is acknowledged to be today. To me, Instagram has never been just about pictures of myself or of my friends doing various things (although I have and do post photos like that). My favorite part of the app is how it celebrates noticing something seemingly mundane or something beautiful or meaningful (even if it means something only to the person taking the photo). I love accounts that are ‘artistic’ in that sense, yes for the sake of art, but for another reason too: I enjoy being inspired to appreciate something I might not have otherwise seen, even if it’s only from a shift in perspective. Instagram has opened my mind by opening my eyes through the eyes of others.
If you’ve walked anywhere with me, you know I like to stop and take pictures of things like flowers or buildings or signs or views or shadows or reflections or street art… or better yet, I might ask you to stand on a tall rock to take your photo when you might not want one or have you stop in the middle of the street with me so I can take a picture of that row of palm trees from a better angle. I don’t post all the photos I take; I don’t do it for that reason either, taking a picture has only helped me to appreciate the beauty of a thing from a different perspective, even if it’s right in front of me. This doesn’t mean I don’t “live in the moment” or that my hand is always on my iPhone. I just really like to appreciate something as is, but it makes me appreciate that thing even more if at the same time I find a different way to look at it.
After living in San Francisco, I came back to San Diego and showed a friend of mine some of the photos I took of heart shapes I managed to find all over the city, in buildings, on doors, in parks, everywhere. She looked at me like I was somewhat crazy for having so many of these heart photos and then said, “I’ve been to San Francisco a million times and I’ve never noticed any of these before.” To notice something so small and celebrate it, feels to me like “living right.” Taking that cool picture of a sunset now makes me excited to see one and experience its colors. I don’t care how the rain and fog mess up my hair because I’ve seen how raindrops fall on leaves to make them look glossy or the way the fog makes a bridge look like it magically disappears. For a couple years now, and it feels strange to admit, I’ve daydreamed about how beautiful it would be to walk through a field of sunflowers during that golden hour or two before the sunsets. I’ve thought about what it would be like to see a lighthouse up close, the really tall kind, at the edge of a rocky cliff when the sky turns purple and it’s almost dark out. Pictures I’ve seen or might take only add another opportunity for me to catch something more to now smile over.
Looking back, I understand how having an Instagram has changed the way I appreciate the beauty I can see, but besides the beauty that surrounds us in physical form, there’s a lot more we can appreciate about life too that might be missed if we don’t look. To constantly be in “awe” really feels fulfilling, no matter how “flowery” it sounds. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with to help appreciate more:
1. Unplug. Decide that you are NOT going to check any social media anything and commit to it for the rest of that day (or longer) from time to time. All of that stuff can be distracting at times and it’s healthy to create boundaries.
2. Appreciate someone from afar. Maybe they are an old friend you haven’t seen in a while or live far away; call (or text) them just to let them know how you feel about them, that you care and how they’ve impacted you.
3. Do nothing. Get up 15 minutes early to do nothing. Sit in peace; don’t talk, don’t go online, just be. Sip on tea or coffee or water, step outside or look out the window and just be.
4. Thank you. Those two words go a long way, say them often to others, even if they can’t hear because they stopped to let you walk across the street and are in their car. Say it anyways.
5. Help. Someone drops something a few feet away as you’re in mid conversation with someone else—go over, pick it up and then pick up the conversation where you left off. It will be an unexpected surprise that someone would actually help like that or even take notice.
6. Aim to make them smile. Even if it’s at your own expense, it will make you feel golden knowing you could make someone smile. When I was once a nanny, I would rap Jay-Z lyrics (the clean cut version) to make the girls I watched smile..just because smiling feels good.
7. Answer your phone with a smile. Just do it, even if you don’t feel like it.
8. Do something weird. A couple weekends ago I decided to climb up on my roof because.
9. Be present. The greatest gift you can give someone is being present when you are with them. Being there, in the moment and actually listening is something the other person will feel. Have you ever been on the phone with someone or even in person with them, knowing their mind is somewhere else? That’s the worst feeling. Don’t be that person.
10. Take pictures (of things other than people). By all means take pictures of people, but take pictures of other things just to see how you can make it look different. Be curious about shapes, symmetry, lines, light, shadows, and color. Do take a moment to stop, stare and take a picture.