True Confession: Facebook Makes Me Feel Bad

Social media is hard on the soul.  Spending time, day after day, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedI, Instagram, has left me feeling…well, like a bit of a loser.  Everyone out there seems to have more fun than me, more friends than me, a better job, more followers.  My best friend gets way more “likes” on her Facebook photos. LinkedIn keeps telling me to “congratulate” my connections on their promotions.  My sister’s blog has a gazillion more followers than mine does.  Loser = me.  Or so it sometimes feels. And I am not alone. In a recent study, researchers found that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they felt.  In a New Yorker blog posting called, “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy,” author Maria Konnikova  states:

” A 2010 analysis of forty studies also confirmed the trend: Internet use had a small, significant detrimental effect on overall well-being. One experiment concluded that Facebook could even cause problems in relationships, by increasing feelings of jealousy. Another group of researchers has suggested that envy, too, increases with Facebook use.”

I get it.  I feel lonely when I see that my friends were all out to dinner and I wasn’t invited (it doesn’t matter, in the throes of self-negativity, that theses girls all work together and it was a work function).  I feel envious when I see that the girl I used to supervise has a higher paying, more successful job than me.  I feel bad about myself because I am comparing the person I think I am (and want to be) with people that are just similar enough to me to make me think: “I should be doing that too.” But here’s an interesting fact that comes out of these studies: the feelings of envy are greatest among those who just browse Facebook, rather than actively creating content and engaging with the medium. This may make some sense.  It turns out that other studies have shown that when social media, when used to share experiences, can increase happiness:

“Social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.”

I think this is the simple solution.  When we use social media simply as a way to legally peep into our neighbors’ windows, we feel lonely. It seems like we weren’t really invited, and this reinforces the loneliness from being absent from that particular event in the first place.  But, when we are actively engaged in a particular social medium, we are part of the group.  You post a photo of your own vacation, and suddenly you are in that club of folks who have spent the summer traveling.  When you post something about how bad your job stinks, you find a flood of comments with similar sentiments and you are now part of that community as well. The moral is this: If you use social media, then you need to really use it. Engage and create. Share. Otherwise, for the sake of your mental health, take a break. Come back when you are ready to be a part of this crazy, wonderful, bizarre world of cyber-friendships.

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7 thoughts on “True Confession: Facebook Makes Me Feel Bad

  1. Amanda…..that is some food for thought:) interesting study and when you think about it, it does make sense. I have a common FB account with my husband, and he has always been the active user. However I open it a number of times in a day just to get updates. I post stuff occasionally and that does make me feel “happier” and is definitely more fun:)

  2. I also feel that Facebook is a real amplifier – if you are feeling happy it makes you happier, if you are feeling sad or lonely it makes you feel more sad and lonely.

    • Rachel, this is such a succinct and eloquent way to say it! I always feel like the people who arein the dumps sound like maybe I should call the suicide hotline for them… and the people who are on cloud nine just have the BEST luck.

      But “a real amplifier” is such a great description – I might just borrow that from you!

  3. Amanda…Of course, the alternative explanation is that people who naturally feel sad are more likely to use social media. But I agree with your reasoning and wonder if some of the problem is the use of the term “friends” instead of “contacts”. In traditional (archaic?) social circles the term “friend” had a completely different connotation.

  4. I totally agree, Amanda. If you aren’t going to at least sort of engage in the social media sites and especially if they make you jealous or unhappy – they are not worth using!! For me, social media is a great way to keep in touch with people I might otherwise lose contact with, but I never want it to replace real, face-to-face connections.

  5. There is another social media phenomena that has been coined and is similar you’re describing. There are several studies that describe depression related to “FOMO,” an acronym that describes the Feeling/Fear Of Missing Out. Most people aren’t going to post the pictures from their day sitting in the office, so what viewers see is a skewed selection of the creators life. By watching others having what seems like more fun, the viewer feels like they are not living their life fully.

  6. Love this post Amanda. Sometimes social media actually has the reverse affect – it makes us antisocial. I’d love to find the article I read about a correlation between increased social media use and decreased happiness (self reported). Though I wonder what those trends will look like among the younger generations who will have grown up with social media and digital connectivity as a standard. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

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