Making Facebook a Happy Place
The effects of social media on your life may have less to do with the sites, and more to do with how you approach them.
Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project
We’ve talked before about how and why Facebook makes us unhappy. But a new study from University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross digs a little deeper into how direct a correlation we can infer between Facebook and our unhappiness.
Over a span of two weeks, Kross and his research team sent text messages to 82 Ann Arbor residents five times each day, asking the participants how they were feeling; were they feeling worried or lonely; how much had they used Facebook since the last text; had they interacted with other people in real life since the last text? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they felt. Furthermore, their reported overall satisfaction with life declined steadily from the beginning of the study until its end.
Kross’s findings line up with the studies we’ve discussed before, such as the German universities that investigated “Facebook envy” – the feelings of despair and loneliness triggered by seeing what is perceived to be personal failings compared to the glamorous lifestyles your friends display on social media. That study concluded that the “spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on social networking sites is shown to undermine users’ life satisfaction.”
Still, as Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker, other researchers have gotten results that point to the exact opposite being true. She cites the work of Matthew Lieberman, author of “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” who determined that “the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing.” In fact, Konnikova asserts, social media has fundamentally changed the way we function, in that as we read, watch and consume, we’re already considering with whom we should share that which we’re consuming: “The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.”
The positive or negative effects of social media may have everything to do with how we each use the sites, and less to do with the sites themselves. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that when users were directly engaged in posting or interacting with something, their feelings of bonding and happiness increased. But when they consumed content passively, their loneliness increased.
Have you experienced “Facebook envy?” In your experience, is it true that social media is more enjoyable when you’re actively interacting, as opposed to passively consuming? Share your thoughts here.