Take a quick look around your room. Did you first see that cozy weighted blanked in a viral video? What about that one-of-kind iced coffee maker parked in your fridge (with included cute tumbler of course)? Or the tinted sunscreen in your medicine cabinet that can match any complexion and has over 20k 5-star reviews?
You are not alone. To be clear, influencer culture, or the culture of someone influencing you to buy something via their various social media platforms, is real, prevalent and always gaining speed.
Hence, the arrival of deinfluencing. Though similar to influencing in that it still involves people trying to sway your opinion in some way, deinfluencing is a trend that focuses on discouraging consumers from buying things that they really don’t need, and that probably won’t bring them the happiness that they crave.
Influencer culture + mental health
It can feel like buying these products can fix all of your problems, especially when they’re promoted to you by people who portray themselves as self-confident, happy and successful.
With more and more research showing that social media can harm mental health, particularly among young people, it’s no wonder that there has been some backlash against the constant push for overconsumption on social media channels.
“The problem with influencing is that it’s a job, that’s the whole point of it,” says Milla Titova, director of the University of Washington’s Happiness and Well-Being Lab. “Basically, it's just people trying to sell you stuff, and if they were truly honest about it, they would only recommend the products they use themselves. But with most people, they’re going to try and sell you something based on who is paying them.”
Titova is also quick to point out that research shows that happiness does not come from spending money on all of the things — especially things that aren’t actual experiences like trips and travels, concerts, sporting events or other activities. Though you may get a small burst of excitement when you’re waiting for your package to arrive, but this pleasure is usually short-lived.
The role of deinfluencing
This is why deinfluencers urge you to take a closer look at the things you’re being told to buy in your feeds and ask yourself how they will really improve your life.
Deinfluencers don’t just ask you to think about your purchases, they also encourage you to be skeptical of so-called lifestyle influencers, who promote certain lifestyles that they say will make you thinner, fitter and more productive.
"One deinfluencer was saying ‘You do not need to have a 5 to 9 routine before your 9 to 5’, because that's apparently a new thing, with all these people posting videos of them waking up at 5 a.m. and being super productive with their day before they even start working,” says Titova.
She points out how unrealistic that is for an average person. Plus, not everyone is a morning person, so if you’re now trying to follow this trend and struggling to get enough sleep — that’s not going to be healthy or useful for your body or mental health.
"That's what I think the deinfluencing movement is trying to point out. Yes, we see all these glamorous portrayals of different trends and different products, but not everyone needs it. Maybe somebody would really benefit from having that 5 to 9 routine, but most people probably won’t,” says Titova.
Why this, why now?
Well, it’s clear that social media continued to thrive (and grow) during the pandemic, a time when most people were even more attached to their phones than usual — in attempts to connect to the outside community and world.
While platforms like TikTok gained popularity, so did the presence of a whole new level of influencing and influencers.
But, of course, influencers can only saturate a market with magical face serums, age-defying vitamins and pricey leather bags for so long before you reach a threshold and some kind of counterbalancing movement is bound to unfold.
One reason why deinfluencers are gaining traction on social media is the growing recognition of the environmental harm of wasteful consumption.
“Deinfluencers also promote more sustainable lifestyles,” says Titova. “They talk about how you’re buying a lot of plastic and other harmful materials, and that’s just not good for the environment. Yes, we all need to buy some products, but buying fewer high-quality products that will be reused is a great thing for the environment and for everybody involved.”
The real secret to happiness?
Well, the answers will differ depending on the person, but here’s what we do know.
People are really bad at knowing what’s going to make them happy. According to Titova, that’s one of the biggest takeaways of happiness research.
People also tend to overestimate how much happiness a certain thing is going to provide (trendy organic linen jumpsuit, I’m looking at you), whether it’s a purchase, a trip or something else. While at the same time, underestimating the amount of happiness or joy that can be derived from other, simpler activities — you know, taking a stroll in nature, chatting with an old friend over coffee or even curling up on the couch with a favorite flick or good book.
"Instead of basing decisions on an anticipated amount of happiness or what we think is going to make us happy, you should reflect on how past experiences went,” says Titova. “Engaging in this highly materialistic behavior and buying expensive jewelry or your tenth pair of shoes — research shows that it’s just not going to make you happy. So, it's good to reflect — ‘How did I feel last time I spent money on this, did it really give me that giant boost of happiness that I think it's going to?’”
Maybe in the end, this deinfluencing trend is just about bringing balance to a space that has been pushing folks to spend, spend, spend for far too long. Maybe it’s the natural pushback from folks who are tired of chasing happiness and emptying their bank accounts in the meantime (inflation, anyone?).
Or at least it may be that the concept of deinfluencing will be enough to make you pause, just for a moment, and think twice before clicking “add to cart” next time.