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.