Updated 12 March 2016
According to a slew of studies, Facebook is giving us the misery blues.
One study found that as interaction on the social network increased, self-esteem decreased, and this was particularly pronounced for women. Another showed that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they were moment-to-moment, and also the less satisfied they were with their lives.
The negative influence of Facebook on wellbeing is consistent with that of the internet more generally. One influential study in 1998 found that the more people used the web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt.
In fact, the internet is replete with studies detailing our Facebook-induced misery.
But just why is Facebook making us so unhappy?
Keeping up with the Joneses
Making comparisons on Facebook makes perfect sense in context of the social comparison theory, an influential insight from the 1950s that humans determine personal worth based on how they stack up to others. In other words, when left without obvious cues about our performance, we look to what others are doing to decide whether what we are doing is good enough.
Although social comparison has been going on since monkey’s first morphed into man, Facebook is a steroid injection for the comparison minded, with selective, curated, and instantaneous updates from friends popping up in our newsfeeds every other minute.
Taken at face value, our friends’ online lives all seem pretty damn terrific, which by comparison makes us feel insignificant and underachieving.
At any given moment someone you know will be frolicking around at a pool party with beautiful people, saving baby turtles on the Galapagos Islands, or else have claimed to have solved Fermat’s Last Theorem.
But taking our friends Facebook lives at face value is like taking Ryan Gosling as representative of men. Our friends are only posting snippets of their existence, cultivating the preferred image of their lives.
Facebook status updates and photos are geared towards almost exclusively positive experiences – a holiday adventure, or a great night out involving cocktails and sex.
It’s easy to lose perspective that their lives contain as much insecurity, hard work and monotony as our own.
Author Steven Furtick puts it like this: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Being aware of the potential for Facebook to have a negative impact on our wellbeing, it’s time to be more conscious of how we’re using it – and ultimately to use it to better effect.
Instead of being envious, anxious and unhappy when you use Facebook, here are five ways to use the platform to serve your happiness and wellbeing instead.Taking our friends Facebook lives at face value is like taking Ryan Gosling as representative of men. Click To Tweet
1. Start connecting
Facebook wasn’t designed as a tool to compare yourself to friends, but to connect with them. And the platform can be a great resource for connecting with people, both to build and maintain relationships with them.
There is a fundamental human desire for social belonging and interpersonal exchange, and that explains why social networking sites have exploded in popularity.
No other social network enables us to so easily keep in touch with family and friends around the world.
Research has shown that healthy friendships are a vital component for wellbeing, and that friendships may even be more important than love and family relationships.
What’s the best way to maintain healthy friendships on Facebook?
A great place to start is to connect directly with people who are important to you through the Messenger app. Why not create a group chat with all your immediate family members, and occasionally muse and joke with them about your life? I do it with my family, and we’re probably closer now than when we all lived under the same roof.Research has shown that healthy friendships are a vital component for wellbeing. Click To Tweet
2. Be active on Facebook – don’t lurk in the shadows
The second way to be happy on Facebook is to be an active player, not a passive lurker.
A recent study showed that Facebook users who directly interacted with others – by liking, commenting and chatting – experienced feelings of bonding and social capital, and were less lonely. When users consumed a lot of content passively, however, they felt disconnected and lonelier.
Being active on Facebook means liking your friends’ updates and photos, commenting on them, and chatting with others on the platform.
Would you go to a party (where you know everyone), stand against a wall, and watch as your impeccably dressed friends laugh and chat among each other? Unlikely as that would be a positively depressing experience.
So why would you sit on the sidelines of Facebook?
3. Adjust your news feed
Facebook is a powerful weapon of inspiration – as long as you control the information that you consume. The key is to regularly adjust your news feed, ensuring that that it’s generally informative and inspiring.
Facebook’s news feed algorithm is incredibly sophisticated and, as a recent study has shown, it knows you better than your friends and family.
The important thing to be aware of is that if you like, comment or click on someone’s posts, your news feed will assume you want to see more of them.
Be careful not to like trivial or negative posts. Most importantly though, don’t hesitate to ‘unfollow’ people from your feed. Unfollowing certain people doesn’t mean that you’re ‘defriending’ them, it just means that their negative posts won’t appear in your feed.
In your news feed settings, you can find out which friends have appeared most in your feed over the past week. If a not particularly close friend with a shallow disposition appears too much for your liking, unfollow them.
The other thing you can do is seek out your favorite authors and other experts and ‘like’ their pages. Use your Facebook newsfeed as a specially curated stream of information, that is informative and inspiring. Make use of the excellent ‘saved links’ function, to save articles to read for later.
The result will be that when you wake up in the morning, you’ll see excellent, uplifting content.
4. Be kind to your friends
Although Facebook may seem like a narcissists’ playground, it actually has huge potential for kindness.
By liking and commenting on your friend’s updates, we can demonstrate empathy, care and generosity. Take the time to directly engage with them and say something constructive. We all like to be acknowledged and approved of, and small gestures of Facebook goodwill can go a long way.
A study has shown that emotions between friends can go viral on Facebook, such as happiness. Therefore, be kind, have a positive digital demeanor, and your good vibes will spread far and wide.
Although kindness is a virtue in itself, the concept of reciprocity is also at play. By giving tacit approval to others with likes and comments, they are more likely to do the same to you.Have a positive digital demeanor, and your good vibes will spread far and wide. Click To Tweet
5. Don’t overuse it
The best way you can use Facebook to increase your wellbeing is to spend less time on it.
Don’t use Facebook to replace real interactions and things that give life meaning. See your family. Play sport. Go on Tinder dates. Strive to improve yourself in every area of life.
If you have a balanced life, then the more intuitive it will be to use Facebook in a positive way – connecting with friends not comparing yourself to them, being an active user rather than a passive one, and showing kindness to your friends.
Comparisons aren’t attractive to make when we are living purposeful lives.
What do you think? How do you use Facebook to maximize happiness?