Sadness and Social Media

It thrives on people’s eagerness to share bits and pieces of their lives through status updates and photo posts. Thanks to its creation, it’s now more convenient than ever to keep up with what your friends, family or even complete strangers are doing. Though many aspects of the site are appealing, some research suggests that its use can lead to sadness, loneliness or feelings of depression.

Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study that investigated how Facebook usage correlates to unhappiness. The study involved text messaging a group of young adults multiple times a day for two weeks to determine how Facebook usage affected their subjective well being. Some of the questions sent to the participants asked how they were feeling, how much had they used Facebook since the last message was sent and how lonely they felt at the time. The two main components they tested for were their overall life satisfaction and how they felt from moment to moment.

After the study was complete, the research showed that “The more [participants] used Facebook over two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.” It goes on to explain that using Facebook in times of loneliness did not contribute to happiness and actually produced a decline in affective well-being. Though participants would report feeling more lonely, their Facebook usage was not deterred, showing how difficult it is to disengage from the constant updates that draw you into the site.

It’s important to remember that we don’t see the entirety of someone’s lifestyle through social media. Forgetting about the large periods of life that happen between posts can lead to the feeling of being omniscient. The selectivity that comes with choosing what is shared gives people a false image of the inner workings of their lives.

In another study on social media produced by the University of Michigan, researchers suggest that people tend to portray themselves in a dramatically favorable way and put forth positive life achievements on social media more often than negative information or life setbacks. The study then states: “Theoretically, continually exposing oneself to positive information about others should elicit envy, an emotion linked to lower well-being.”

These feelings are not uncommon. Fear of missing out is normal when seeing events that involve friends or acquaintances in which you were not included. Many people also experience jealousy when seeing someone who portrays a more glamorous or eventful lifestyle than themselves. Facebook allows us to see the plane taking off to the beautiful island, the beach pictures, and the piña coladas, but there is rarely social media documentation of the year that person spent working tirelessly to save up for that trip. The scale is significantly tilted in favor of positive and incomplete portrayals of human life that are both unrealistic and impossible to measure up to.

Over-informing ourselves through Facebook usage is tempting, but considering the effect it has on life outside of the Internet is imperative. Some people would suggest less social-media use as the answer to banishing these feelings of unhappiness, that face-to-face or over-the-phone interactions as well as independent social activities, such as reading or exercising, provide a more fulfilling feeling while still being alone.

Another option would be to limit your Facebook friends to just the people you know personally. But, again, these are just suggestions. Knowing the amount of damage done through overuse of social media differs from person to person, and it’s our responsibility to make a change when a habit becomes unhealthful.