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Viral TikTok Life Hacks Are Satisfying, But Solve Nothing

While scrolling through TikTok one day minding my own business, I came across the most disgusting video of a TikTok life hack and stopped to watch it for 15 seconds of my life that I’ll never get back. The caption read: “WARNING: SNOT” followed by footage of two people shoving garlic cloves up their nostrils, then removing them in an attempt to clear their sinuses. The result: a string of absolute grossness that, tragically, is burned in my memory forever.

Not only was this a waste of perfectly good garlic — seriously, it could have gone on someone’s bread or been used in a pasta dish — but it’s one of the many viral TikTok life hacks that I just don’t understand. I was shocked by how many users actually tried it, like Sienna, who was so obsessed that she ended up doing it twice. Supposedly, garlic is meant to relieve congestion and clear your sinuses, and sticking a clove up your nostrils will do the trick. You know, because there’s no reason nasal spray or allergy medication exists.

Of course, the whole thing was debunked by doctors and said to actually cause harm to the sinuses rather than good. Again, I don’t understand why so many people jumped on the bandwagon to test this viral trend, and while I know this won’t be the last pointless life hack video to pop up on my FYP, I wonder why videos like this continue to gain millions of views.

Before the era of humans shoving garlic up their noses, life hack videos ran rampant on YouTube. For example, there’s Troom Troom, a ridiculous channel that showcases DIY and “how-to” tutorials, along with pointless hacks that I will never understand, like glueing zippers to lemons or creating banana viking helmets. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. These random life hacks were entertaining to watch on YouTube, but were not rooted in any actual scientific evidence nor did they provide an answer to a problem we run into in our everyday lives — and still, they racked up thousands of views.

I even remember watching YouTuber and nail artist Cristine of Simply Nailogical — widely known for her well-documented hatred of Troom Troom — poke fun at the channel and its pointless life hacks. Finally, I saw someone else who questioned them like me. But now that life hacks are resurfacing all over TikTok, I’m starting to wonder what it is about them that grabs our attention. Why do these strange videos always go viral, and is anyone else questioning them? Just me?  

While TikTok life hacks are usually not rooted in any scientific evidence, it turns out there may actually be a reason for why the videos are so addicting to watch. Research has found that people tend to seek out forms of media that either help them ignore negative feelings, or reinforce positive ones — AKA the reason why scrolling through TikTok is so great — it makes us laugh, and it’s delightfully distracting. 

According to experts from Northwestern Medicine, binge-watching videos can also cause the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter which gives us pleasure, excitement, and happiness. Not to mention it’s the same chemical that’s released when you eat sugar or have sex, so while I’m not going to equate a Troom Troom video to either of those acts, I can see how a viral TikTok life hack video might cause a similar “rush.” 

Remember those ASMR videos everyone is obsessed with? Like people whispering into a microphone or tapping their nails across a surface to make a calming sound? Well, ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” which can literally create a relaxing, tingling sensation in our brain — AKA pretty similar to how viral TikTok videos can feel strangely satisfying, even if they aren’t all that helpful. 

Typically when you see a viral TikTok life hack, you’re shown a close-up visual of someone’s hands completing a task. Some suggest that this plays a role in appealing to our childlike tendencies, since we’re hardwired from a young age to learn motor skills by watching another person’s hands. So, even if TikToks don’t add much value to my day, it makes sense why I can’t seem to direct my gaze elsewhere.

It seems like the older I get, the more absurd TikTok life hacks become, like the concept of pouring live fish into molds to make popsicles (why?!) or this guy, who literally jumps into the pool to show a “life hack” for removing a t-shirt while holding a durian, which doesn’t appear to be necessary or helpful for the task. We also can’t forget highly-questionable viral trends like eating tide pods — which is both highly questionable and dangerous — and supposedly began in response to a 2015 story from The Onion. That said, it appears that no matter how outlandish, unnecessary, or random these viral trends are, they will continue to thrive on Gen Z-driven platforms like TikTok

Fortunately, some creators have bravely spoken out about the epidemic of pointless life hacks, posting videos where they’re equally as riled up as I am or mocking “life hack” culture by creating their own versions, for example, providing instructions on how to pour a glass of water or creating unnecessarily complicated recipes

The bottom line is, every time I watch a video of a viral life hack trend, I’m left feeling angry, yet strangely satisfied. Even if I don’t want to like it, my brain somehow does, and I still want to stick around to the end and see what happens. The next time I see a so-called life hack on TikTok, I’m going to try my best to skip it — but chances are, I won’t be able to look away.

Emily is a summer 2021 Editorial Intern, writing her heart out between sips of coffee and scrolling through TikTok. Having a love for reporting what her 10-year-old self called "the news" (AKA family gossip) since she learned how to use a keyboard, Emily is a senior journalism major at Lewis University. In her free time, Emily can be found reading the hottest thriller, doing plant mom things, or taking pictures of beauty products for her skincare Instagram, @emilyaspiringblog.
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