Students spread positivity and awareness through Instagram accounts

March 25, 2020 — by Anna Novoselov

Senior Ranna Zahabi posts positive quotes on @rannasreminders and Riya Kalra profiles individuals on @humansofsbay.

Positive messages like “All good things come from gratitude,” “A little less judgment, a little more kindness” and “Change the world by being yourself” fill the feed of the Instagram account @rannasreminders. These posts are accompanied by short motivational captions that encourage people to take care of themselves and persevere through tough times.

“It’s important for people to see positive messages and encouraging advice in the midst of absorbing so much information all the time,” said senior Ranna Zahabi, the account’s creator. “It makes people more mindful about what they’re looking at, and it helps chip away at the subconscious toxicity that comes with the constant need to impress that’s seen on Instagram.”

Zahabi was inspired to create her page when she tapped on a positive quote post from Mantra Magazine on her explore page and then scrolled through various other inspirational posts. From that moment, she began to spend more time exploring accounts that promoted well-being and optimism rather than ones that simply pictured people’s lives, which has helped her become more mindful of the content she chooses to engage with.

“Accounts like these helped me so much and I kind of saw it as my secret weapon,” Zahabi said. “Eventually I realized that this is something not a lot of people utilize and I wanted to raise awareness about the importance of staying connected to positivity.”

As of February, Zahabi’s account had 104 posts and 214 followers. The first post was on Aug. 6, 2019, and now Zahabi posts almost daily. She reposts content from other positivity accounts and gives credit by tagging the users.

Zahabi often receives comments from both friends and strangers thanking her for posting affirmative messages that help them get through tough days.

“Simple messages of positivity apply to a broad range of people and remind them that their life is about so much more than the daunting day-to-day tasks they are trying to escape,” Zahabi said. “In the midst of mindless scrolling, it’s nice to see a reminder that makes you more thoughtful in the present moment.”

Another account, @humansofsbay was created by senior Riya Kalra for the purpose of profiling unique individuals living in the South Bay. While she created the account last year for her English 11 Honors final storytelling project, Kalra hopes to continue it as she enjoyed listening to strangers discuss their fascinating experiences.

“The main purpose [of the account] is to share stories of people from all walks of life,” Kalra said.  “It also became therapeutic for me, but the original intent was just to show people that they are never really alone, especially because I started it at a time when I felt that way.”

By giving her opportunities to listen to other people’s struggles and successes, she said that the account helped her exit the “creative and emotional rut” she experienced from constantly focusing on her own stresses.

Each of Kalra’s posts features an individual's photo accompanied by a caption about the person. Some of the profiled individuals include a Venezuelan woman revealing her passion for writing and the worry she feels for her family, a young boy discussing learning Hindi and his hopes for the future and a man recounting catching a 45-pound fish.

The account currently has 67 followers and seven posts. Kalra hopes that she can expand her audience by posting more often and by profiling more individuals.

Kalra received the idea for the page from Humans of New York, a photoblog of interviews by American author Brandon Stanton. She said that she especially loves reading the profiles of older individuals who overcame tough circumstances while pursuing their goals.

“It makes me so happy and content to know that we can’t control our circumstances, but we can control the way we react to them, which makes all the difference,” she said. “Resilience matters a lot more than luck.”

Kalra even became a patron on Stanton’s Patreon, where she read about how to approach people and have meaningful conversations with them.

From there, she began walking up to people who struck her as interesting and asking them to share their personal stories at locations such as the Saratoga Library and Vasona Park. She was surprised by how many people were willing to open up to a complete stranger.

Although Kalra edits the interviews she records for clarity and conciseness, she doesn’t significantly revise the accounts. She said she tries to pinpoint the most striking parts of the conversations that represent the main idea of the stories without inserting her own analysis.

“People were polite and surprisingly open to talking about their personal lives,” Kalra said. “The account was just a way for me to listen to others with more life experience than me describe the ups and downs everyone goes through.” 

Kalra said that people often feel disconnected from each other because they don’t realize how similar their struggles are. She feels humbled that so many people were able to open up to her and share the challenges they faced.

“Seeing people talk about things that you personally struggled with can really boost your self-esteem and reduce your doubts and anxiety,” she said. “That in turn inspires people to be more open about themselves.”

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