“Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” asks the 100 Happy Days Foundation.
It’s the meme of the moment, and the idea is simple: after registering on the 100happydays website, participants share a photo of a moment in their day that has made them happy. It could be a laughing child, a great-looking cake, flowers in the park, a funny-shaped cloud, or a DVD cover of a favourite movie. Then repeat. For a 100 days in a row.
But while the 100happydays foundation promises that its 750,000 global participants (“happiness ambassadors”) will start noticing what makes them happy and experience a better mood every day, some participants are finding that the pressure to experience happiness is actually making them miserable.
Samantha* a mother of two, completed the 100happydays challenge earlier this year. She says that while on the whole it was a positive experience, there were times that capturing “happy moments” actually detracted from them.
“I often felt like I wasn't able to stay in the moment because I was thinking ‘oh this is perfect for 100happy days,’” she says.
Another criticism of the campaign is that the #100happydays photos that appear on social media are competitive, as another participant, Joanne*, explains. “I’m sure there are plenty of people who are genuinely expressing the things in life that do give them happiness, but the pessimist in me thinks that for the majority of people it is all about competing and keeping up with the Jones’.”
Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says that while the 100happydays foundation stipulates that the meme is not a competition, social media can create a culture of one-upmanship. “Perhaps it’s also pressure to do something new and to be original, arty or creative in their expression of this happiness,” she says.
Brewer also notes that 100 days is a fairly long time to maintain the habit of sharing a photo. “While I applaud the idea that it’s beneficial to put attention on the 'little things' that bring us joy and gratitude, I'm not sure that by day 87 people will be maintaining their inspiration, and they may falter and not complete it,” she says.
Another concern is that taking part in the meme might highlight the fact that some people struggle with finding something to feel happy about every day. And as Brewer points out, there’s nowhere on the website that offers help to people that are “freaking out that they’ve run out of things to be happy about and might need to seek help”.
It is this point that irks blogger Grace Titokia. “From the perspective of mental health, I don't think it's realistic to ‘be happy’ for 100 days straight. When I first saw the challenge I thought the idea was shallow – it further promoted social media as a way to see the overlay of someone's life, rather than letting them tell it just how it really is,” she says.
Grace also believes that as a society, we focus on happiness too much. “People don't realise that happiness and being in its true state is fleeting. It comes and goes and that's okay. We don't need to try and be happy every day – not only is that daunting, it's tiring!”
For British mum Steph Douglas, the problem with the #100happydays is that it’s not a true reflection of life – and, in particular, of parenting. Her antidote? #7daysofreality, a new meme that documents “a narrative of how that moment really was”.
So far the #7daysofreality hashtag features a small collection of photos, including sullen children and mountains of laundry, but Steph hopes the photos will inspire people to be honest with each other. “Instead of pitting ourselves against each other, perhaps we can take comfort from the fact that we’re in this together and none of us really knows what we’re doing,” she explains.
Of course, while some have their concerns, there are plenty of people singing the praises of #100happydays.
“I did it and loved it!” says new mum Aimee*. “It helped me to make sure I found joy in something at least once a day, which was really helpful on those hard days.”