Approval Like a Drug
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Like most of us, I appreciate a compliment and I bristle at criticism. When I read a kind comment on the blog, it makes me feel good, which provides positive reinforcement. When someone writes something critical, it bothers me. A thumbs up on Facebook triggers a tiny reward in my brain, which means I crave more. If I’m not careful, I can become dependent on such rewards for my mood. In such a condition, when I receive positive feedback, I feel good about myself. When I don’t, I feel bad.
Those who create our social media are aware of the addictive nature of reinforcement and use it to their advantage to promote and sell their product. Most of us crave approval and when we get it, we experience immediate gratification. It never lasts though, and so we seek more, checking our status a hundred times a day, just to get another hit of affirmation. When we do this often enough, we develop a compulsive behavior. Now, we’re addicted to approval, seeking it like a drug.
The problem with finding our meaning in the approval of others is twofold. First, it will never truly satisfy. Like any drug or immediate gratification, the affirmation high is temporary and the payment comes after. We may feel good for the moment, but when deprived, we feel bad, experiencing withdrawal. The approval is never enough as we develop a tolerance, requiring more and more. Other people are fickle though and can never supply us with enough affirmation to keep us feeling good about ourselves. Living for man’s approval will always leave us feeling empty in the end.
Though he didn’t have a smart phone, Paul described the second problem in today’s passage. In it, he said that if he sought the approval of others, he couldn’t serve God because he’d actually be serving man. When we find joy and purpose in a thing, we live for that thing. If we find our happiness in social media, we live for it and in this state, we cannot serve God. This is the problem with any addiction – it distracts us from living the live for which we were made.
If we want to know true joy, then we must seek God’s approval above all, finding our purpose and meaning in him. He’s the only one who can truly satisfy us, and he’s the only one who can provide the authentic affirmation that we’ve been seeking all along.