On a scale from 1 to Pharrell, how happy would you say you are? How do you define and measure happiness anyway? Do you just ask someone if they’re happy, or try to asses their physiological functions? Maybe look for the use of certain words? Contentment is something we all strive for, and social media have been playing a major role in shaping the way people feel about their lives. As the user count of various social networks goes up, the connection deepens, and you may need a conscious effort to stay on your path to personal happiness.
So, am I trying to say that social media make people miserable? Well, it seems like they might be doing just that. There’s plenty of information online that lays basis for this claim. In this post though, I chose to largely set aside the dry research results and focus more on my personal experience instead, hopefully, to provide a fresher perspective on the issue at hand.
The article is something for you to chew on. As a long-time social media user, I wanted to share with you some of my observations and thoughts on the link between online social networks and happiness. My goal is to make you a more conscious and wiser social media user, whose happiness isn’t hurt by his news feed.
The relation between social media and happiness
Humans are social animals, so fulfilling the need to belong is essential to their happiness. Thanks to multiple social media platforms, people have never been closer to each other. Has this resulted in a widespread bliss? Not exactly.
One may ask why do people use social media at all? Is it to connect and stay up to date with others? To seek or spread information? For entertainment purposes? To vent? Maybe to boost their self-esteem, or feed the craving for attention?
These are all valid reasons, however, I reckon that the latter two are among the strongest reasons for logging in to social networks, because they’re emotion-driven.
Research on social media and happiness shows that a sort of emotional dependency, or even addiction, develops among users. Getting likes releases dopamine in much the same way an illegal substance does.
Likes and comments have become an online emotional currency that one spends on feeling good about himself and then has to earn it back. People constantly seek validation in the ever-more competitive world we live in, and so, they often turn to the Internet to put their lives up for display and assessment. Unfortunately, the validation doesn’t always come. Moreover, the mere fact of observing others’ lives and pitting them against yours may negatively affect your happiness.
How social media impact your happiness
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that social media are all bad. I love them and I think there’s plenty of great things about them. I do feel, however, that you can easily misuse the various social networks and so hamper your happiness. With that being said, let’s now take a look at some of the issues relevant to the statement I just made.
Let me start off by saying that if you only lurk and observe others’ lives, your happiness will probably suffer, as you’ll start thinking that your friends only experience good things. Research, as well as my personal experience show, that in order to boost your happiness, you need to post AND interact with other people.
The thing is that social media often distort reality. By constantly trying to keep up with what’s going on in your networks and seeing only the bright side of people’s lives, you may start to feel stressed and pressured. This in turn, can make you start questioning yourself about whether you’re beautiful or successful enough and meet the somewhat artificially set standards.
Social media attention cravers
The discussion so far has lead me to one significant group of social media users, that is attention cravers.
I’m pretty sure you’re able to identify these individuals in your networks rather easily, as they’ll frequently post selfies, regardless of gender, or lots of petty information that no one truly cares for. Now, do these people have influence on my happiness? Not really, and they shouldn’t affect you, either.
What I believe though, is that insufficient amount of attention given to their posts, that is, not enough likes or comments, does impact their happiness. I feel like there’s this sort of people, who are a bit insecure about their own worth, and thus seek constant reassurance in social media.
I’m also wondering whether selfies aren’t a way for them to preserve the transitory physical beauty. They may not only crave attention, but also wish to have something to look back on when they’re no longer young.
In the process, they become emotionally addicted to fixes of double taps and the feeling of happiness that comes with it. What I also find interesting is the long-term psychological impact this will have on heavy social media users. This is something we simply don’t know enough about yet, as even the oldest social platforms haven’t been around that long.
Personal image building tool
Before I go ahead and sum up my musings, I want to touch upon one other issue that I think is crucial when it comes to the link between social media and happiness.
What I’d like you to realize, is that a lot of people are building idealized images of themselves online. This is why you should never let anything in social media affect your happiness.
Think of it this way – would you ever share the worst moments of your day/life? Or an unflattering photo? No? Didn’t think so. Do they happen/exist anyway? Absolutely! Some people get caught up in broadcasting a largely fabricated life. If you’re the one doing this, it may affect your real life when you’ll have to try hard to upkeep the image. If you’re the one watching, on the other hand, remember that everyone has their problems that they’re not sharing with the world.
Sharing only the positive moments can create a huge emotional imbalance. It takes a mental toll on you, because deep down, you understand it’s not really your life.
I reckon we live in times of the cult of an individual, which isn’t necessarily bad, except that the individuals who gain the most attention and following aren’t exactly the role models to be imitated.
So again, social media are not all negative. In fact, they can be like wine – used with moderation, they can enhance certain moments of your life, or like cigarettes – addictive and damaging.
Being able to share valuable content, as well as learn is great. Spreading important information by anyone to anyone with Internet connection is something that wasn’t possible a mere 10 years ago!
Now, in order to not ruin your happiness, you have to be aware of certain mechanisms and behaviors prevalent in social media. When observing someone’s life on the Internet, remember you’re comparing their highlight reel against your entire life, all your peaks and valleys, which obviously isn’t fair.
Make sure you understand very well the fact that generally in life, not only in social media, the only one you’re competing against is yourself.
To wrap things up here, how about a challenge? Stay away from at least one of the social media platforms you’re active in, preferably Facebook, for a month and see how you feel. I did so in February this year, and only went on Twitter for some first-hand news. I was able to focus more on things that actually matter, instead of compulsively checking what are my friends up to. Might just repeat the experiment in May…
PS. Here’s a nice study by the Happiness Research Institute, in case you want some hard data on the topic.