By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
As it’s been proven in studies, and in most people’s personal experiences, having a supportive social network helps us feel happier and cope better in life. But this wisdom has been brought into question recently by the growth of social media. When all goes well, users of social media feel emotionally supported by their online network. They enjoy feeling like part of a larger community, which could include keeping up with old friends they might never have reconnected with. However, social media can also make people feel alone as they watch others having fun and engaging in a full life.
While this reaction might also happen as people share offline, it is accentuated on social media (especially Facebook). That’s because people tend to post only their best, most “picture perfect” experiences and leave out the pain, suffering, and drudgery of daily life. As a result, many of the “consumers” of this fairytale life feel disenchanted with their own lives.
The research on social media has yet to clearly outline what is helpful versus what is harmful. Many factors affect someone’s reaction, such as self-esteem, loneliness, “real world” social supports, depression, and the perceived support of their online network. One study (Kross, Verduyn, and colleagues, 2013) showed that although a number of things affect people’s reactions to Facebook, being active on the site is associated with being less happy in the moment and with being less satisfied with life. In other words, the study found that being active on Facebook undermines happiness.
Even with these findings, it is key to remember that you are a person, not a statistic. So, when you think about the wisdom of being active in social media, ask yourself how doing so affects you — in both good and bad ways:
Do you feel more emotionally supported with it?
Does it inspire you to take on meaningful activities?
Does it enhance your life in other ways?
Does it make you feel sad, lonely, or left out?
Does it make you envious?
Does it tend to make you unhappy in other ways?
Does it interfere with face-to-face time you could be spending with others?
Does it take you away from other, more meaningful activities?
No matter what others say about social media, if you find that it enhances your life, stay logged on. However, if you notice some disturbing links between your unhappiness and using social media, take a step back. Log out for a while – a day, days, or even weeks. Consider how what you do during the day affects your happiness and satisfaction with life. Then make a conscious decision about what part you would like social media to play in your life.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.