Given my occasionally geriatric personality, I was one of the last people on earth to finally download TikTok. Begrudgingly, I’ve come to really enjoy the mindless scrolling through videos narrowly tailored to my interests.
Though I’ve cycled through various TikTok realms, one of my most recent, and subsequently most influential, has been the trend highlighting daily endeavors with the sound that goes something like “you have got to start romanticizing your life.”
For a long time I thought it was silly. Now I understand.
Until recently ー if you know anything about my previous columns ー I’ve been particularly irritable and upset at the world around me. It’s so easy for me to get stuck in ruts where I not only feel angry, dissatisfied and lonely, but also push others away in the process for fear of them seeing me at my worst.
And TikTok knows this. I agree that our phones peeking into our lives and listening to our conversations is eerie and invasive, but it certainly makes for entertaining content.
Last week, I saw a TikTok of a girl struggling with depression who gets up early once a week to watch the sunrise, and it completely mesmerized me. I’ve seen so many other videos of people using the “romanticizing your life” audio, but this person was doing it in real time. She was doing something attainable and relatable.
And that’s when it hit me — I could be doing this too.
I searched for the best place to watch the sunrise in Monroe County, made my overnight oats and set my alarm for 6 a.m. the following morning. Though I was slow to start, the outcome was incredibly healing.
I arrived at Lake Monroe just in time to find the perfect spot. I sat on a hill overlooking much of the lake where boats dock and patrons walk around. I saw a bald eagle ー a rare sight for someone from flat, suburban north Texas. I was in awe.
Though I’m not a religious person, I felt incredibly connected to something much greater than I am. I thought to myself, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Since then, I’ve been doing anything and everything I can to make my life more scenic. Instead of simply existing, I’ve tried experiencing. I’m not so concerned with being productive or completing tasks that amount to a greater academic benefit. I’m doing more things to feed my soul.
I’ve started driving around new places whenever I get the chance because I find country roads absolutely fascinating. I’ve been to flea markets and voodoo shops and crystal stores. I’m desperate for anything to make me feel something. And it’s working.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the cultural zeitgeist has shifted almost entirely from fawning over celebrities on social media to wanting to see real people struggling or persevering just as many others are. Society is generally tired of celebrity because — now more than ever — it’s much harder to feign positivity when everyone is still coping with the pandemic more than a year later.
That being said, I employ great caution when describing activities that make me feel better about life because I know all too well how debilitating mental health issues can be. TikTok and its trends are no cure-all, but more than any other social media platform, it can be useful to see how other people cope with challenges to their mental health.
Because of my quiet and reserved nature, I’ve felt like a secondary character in my own life for a very long time. By doing things that make me feel like the main character every once in a while and forgiving myself if I don’t have the energy for them every day, I’ve been able to truly let go of some of my anxieties that hold me back and loosen the hold my own mental gymnastics have on my wellbeing. I’ve been able to center my happiness for the first time in my entire life.
Some might consider this a selfish act, but so long as I’m not inhibiting another person’s wellbeing or sacrificing others’ happiness for that of my own, I think it’s OK.
Natalie Gabor (she/her) is a junior studying journalism with minors in business marketing and philosophy. She hopes to one day find a career that tops her brief stint as a Vans employee.