I joined Instagram later than most of my peers. Building a social media account from scratch as an adult gave me an opportunity to carefully curate the content that I wanted to see (unlike my Facebook profile, which is a mishmash of mildly embarrassing posts from college, stress venting, and personal photos from when I first joined over a decade ago).
I follow family and close friends, including younger cousins who aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, so I see posts from the people I care about most. But, I also make sure to follow accounts that bring me happiness, calm, and inspiration. Here are a few I recommend:
I love to travel, so National Geographic Travel was an early addition to my Instagram feed. National Geographic is known for its photography, so the images are stunning. I love getting a glimpse of people and places all around the world without the expense of a plane ticket, although sometimes I also take notes on ideas for future trips (Spain, Vietnam, and Scandinavia are currently on my too-long list). And the best part is that @natgeotravel posts every few hours, so I can feel like I’m a true globetrotter.
Several studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces our stress levels, but a 2015 study from the Netherlands suggested that people can get this same effect simply by looking at images of trees. I’m from Northern California and spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada mountains as a kid, so I follow Yosemite National Park. I love seeing familiar landmarks like Half Dome, along with backcountry vistas, animals, waterfalls, and, of course, the sequoia trees. Most of the national parks also have their own accounts.
In real life, I’m a cat person, but in my digital life, I’m still a sucker for cute dog photos. A friend of mine is the principal at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish School in Plymouth, Michigan, and their school pet is an Australian labradoodle named Cru (short for Crusaders, the school mascot) with his own Instagram. The account documents Cru exploring Michigan, modeling doggie fashion, and just being all-around fluffy and adorable.
Being surrounded by books makes me feel at home, so of course, I needed books in my Instagram feed. Reading is often such a solitary activity that it’s nice to connect with other readers from time to time. Publishers, libraries, and other bookish places have their own profiles, but my favorite is @just.books.thats.all run by my friend Michelle. Just like seeing physical books, her lovely images of themed stacks of books bring me comfort, give me a jolt of familiarity when I recognize a title I’ve read, and give me ideas for what to read next.
Monterey, California, with its world-famous aquarium, is one of my favorite places in my home state. The aquarium’s Instagram, @montereybayaquarium, includes photos and videos of sea otters… Do you really need another reason to follow? If so, they post photos and videos of lots of other animals both over and under the sea, coastal views around the aquarium, and more. There’s nothing more calming than a video of the ocean waves crashing.
Fr. Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries in 1988 as a response to the gang violence he saw around him in Los Angeles. His books about boundless compassion and radical kinship are wonderful, and the Instagram account for Homeboy Industries is an extension of them. The quotes from Fr. Greg help me remember to live with compassion, and the “Humans of New York”-style stories of the people affected by Homeboy Industries remind me to treat everyone I meet with dignity.