"I THRIVE AT THE OFFICE."
"THIS WEEKEND WILL BE LEGENDARY."
"I AM SANE."
These are just a few of the quotes you'll find on the Instagram account @afffirmations, a motivational page that promises something called "Global Self Hypnosis."
Scroll through afffirmations' posts and you'll find blurry, heavily edited, technicolor images emblazoned with enthusiastic quotes like the ones listed above.
The account, which exists somewhere at the intersections between wellness and satire, in many ways is the ultimate guide to winning at highly evolved capitalism. The images themselves seem to be plucked out of a 2000s tween magazine or a real estate guidebook.
Images of Carly Rae Jepsen and vintage Justin Bieber beam next to pink lotus flowers, luxury hotel rooms, and Parisian skylines. Emblazoned on each image is an "affirmation," typically written in all-caps, that expresses something aspirational.
"THERE'S NO ROOM FOR STRESS IN MY LIFE."
"I WILL TRAVEL THE WORLD."
"YOU WILL REMEMBER ME."
The creator of Afffirmations is a 20-year-old named Matthew, who lives in Oslo. According to Matthew, who is relentlessly positive in interviews, the account is solely designed to help people and give them hope. "I want to make it clear to viewers that they've got what they need, the bare necessities of life," he said to Vice.
"If you're seeing the affirmations, that means you've got WiFi, which means you're relatively privileged, etcetera. I know that these are hard times, of course, even in Norway. But I still try to help people express their thankfulness and help people think more positively," he said.
His account is a project he takes very seriously. "I don't consider it to be memes. I consider it to be very high art, because it's a concept I've thought through a lot," he said in the interview.
Many of Afffirmations' posts are about finding and rediscovering joy in art and feeling pride and purpose in being a content creator or social media poster. For Matthew, the project is a carefully orchestrated and artistic way to draw people into the power of positive thinking — and even to actually hypnotize people into feeling gratitude for everything they have.
"They see it and they think it looks very absurd," he said of his followers. "Then, they follow because they think it's a meme or they think it's a funny, satirical page. And then they see that I know what I'm talking about."
In interviews and on the account, Matthew is relentlessly positive, disavowing any accusations that the account is a satire of wellness and motivational thinking. Yet some of the posts are so absurd that it's impossible not to see them as satirical, as poking fun at the system it also plays into.
"MY IMAGINATION IS STILL PURE AND VIVID."
"I AM NOT ENTERING A SPRING PSYCHOSIS."
"I BECOME INSTANTLY HAPPY EVERY FRIDAY."
According to Psychology Today, affirmations are "used to reprogram the subconscious mind, to encourage us to believe certain things about ourselves or about the world and our place within it. They are also used to help us create the reality we want — often in terms of making (or attracting) wealth, love, beauty, and happiness."
Affirmations are staples of New Age thought, and they rely on the same logic of practices like manifestation or the law of attraction, which both essentially propose that whatever you think about grows. Typically written in the first person, they are designed to be pasted on walls or whiteboards and recited like prayers or mantras.
Affirmations have also become focal points of wellness and influencer social media accounts — particularly the kinds that preach the possibility of instantaneous self-improvement based on shifts in mindset alone (but usually only if you "sign up" for their "FREE course"). Often packaged in nice graphics and posted alongside encouraging captions, affirmations have only grown more common and abundant in recent years.
Do Affirmations Work?
Affirmations can actually, genuinely help improve people's lives. Neuroplasticity, or our brain's ability to adapt to different situations throughout our lives, means that our brains can actually change based on experiences we have — whether those experiences are imagined or real. That's why creating a mental picture of yourself doing something can actually guide you towards achieving a goal or actualizing a dream. A recent study out of Carnegie Mellon found that affirmations can assist with stress and problem-solving, and the powers of positive thinking are well-proven.
On the other hand, affirmations aren't cure-alls. Affirmations without actions are just empty words; and of course, a mindset shift can't paste over mental illnesses or systemic issues.
In addition, like the entirety of the self-help industry, affirmations often help to prop up capitalist structures. They are often used to sell products, or to prop up idealized versions of the people we "should" become while failing to recognize the problems that are designed to prevent some of us from reaching these heights.
In recent months, white wellness influencers have often come under fire for preaching "love and light" while refusing to acknowledge things like racism.
Into this online space comes afffirmations, an account that somehow manages to both critique capitalism and the absurdity of the self-help industrial complex while also inspiring viewers to stay grateful and positive through it all.
So much online content gets separated into a binary — everything is either a hateful, holier-than-thou critique or a motivational pop psychology video that manages to criticize negative emotion — but afffirmations manages to encompass both, creating a third space where present truths and imagined futures can coexist.
"STUDENT LOAN WILL NOT RUIN MY FUTURE," reads a post.
"I AM E-GIRL."
"I AM NOT A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT."
These are affirmations designed for people who may not like the absurdity of late capitalism but who, at the same time, have to live within it and want to do more than just survive it. Magically, the account manages to both poke fun at aesthetics like girlbossery and hustle culture while also appreciating the glamor and allure of the fancy, aspirational lifestyles that most of us can't help but long for, even if we know they're part of a deeply flawed system of unsustainable consumerism.
In that sense, afffirmations feels designed for the modern millennial/Gen-Z Internet user who is aware that capitalism is a violent system that is killing the planet but who also can't resist wanting to post good content, or fly to Bali, or climb up the corporate ladder, or enjoy the odd fancy hotel room. Its posts are fluid enough to appeal both to people who genuinely want to hustle their way to Big CEO-hood and people who want to dismantle capitalism, or maybe somehow do both at the same time. They are cynical parodies and genuine expressions of longing — for a better life, for a fun weekend, for a life without mental illness, for a great future.
"NO TO ANXIETY. YES TO EPIC LIFE."
"I AM TOTALLY COMPATIBLE WITH TODAY'S SOCIETY."
"I AM COASTAL DJ."
"I'M NOT DEPRESSED."
Underneath the account's veneer of joyful motivational thinking is a deep, sweeping malaise. Whether it's Matthew's intention or not, the account does the tricky work of addressing and acknowledging this malaise while also maintaining a genuine sense of hope for something different.
Of course, positive thinking can't fix genuine mental illness, nor can it cure the destructiveness of capitalism — but it can certainly make life more bearable regardless of one's situation. In a blog post on libcom.org, a writer addresses the problem with the Left's tendency to critique affirmations, wellness, and positive thinking on the whole. "The problem here isn't just oppression and it isn't just alienation. It is anomie," the post reads.
"The nihilism of neoliberalism and of the age of catastrophe (the sixth extinction; impending climate crises; precarity and austerity; depression and anxiety; a generalised post-traumatic condition) — whether or not it (or they) ultimately exist, people want meaning. They want happiness. They want to feel like they can get up in the morning tomorrow without the hollow pit in their stomach or the tight ball in their chest or the heavy weight of having to achieve one more pointless day... or, if they're lucky, they get buy happily with only a few flashes of the irrelevance of existence disturbing their enjoyment."
In that sense, afffirmations plays into our collective desire for self-love, power, and hope while also recognizing the exhausting absurdity of living under capitalism.
"I AM SANE."
If being sane means being able to accept the contradictions of society no matter how insane they may be (and if you can master the kind of double-think that defines afffirmations), then you just might be.