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Some decades ago, a new form of communication has conquered the world by expanding significantly the way people enjoy news and entertainment: television. At that time television was a big step for humanity, even if there were people who had a different opinion. The poet and playwright TS Eliot, for example, stated: “It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, but even so, they continue to be alone”.
Now you could apply the same logic to social networks, especially Facebook, which in ten years has reached 1.3 billion subscribers, half of which passes an average of 18 minutes logged. Facebook connects people around the world. However, the influence of this social network is not as positive as you might think.
An increasing number of studies suggest that the possibility to be “connected” with other people does not necessarily mean to be happier; in fact, it could adversely affect our mood, because many people are connected but still are alone.
In this regard, psychologists of the University of Michigan and University of Louvain, have decided to deepen the relationship between the use of Facebook and a satisfying life. These researchers asked a group of people to state five times a day for two weeks on their emotional state. So they found that the use of Facebook is associated with a poor well-being. They also found that people say they feel worse after visiting the social network, not before.
Friendly World Syndrome: Everyone seems to be more happy and successful than us
Why the use of Facebook can affect our mood making us feel worse? These psychologists indicate that one of our basic needs is the social contact. Interpersonal relationships are an incredible source of comfort. But the social network does not give us the kind of social contact we need to stay healthy.
One possible explanation could be the simple jealousy. After all, Facebook allows us to see the achievements of people with whom we have lost contact. Moreover, in a certain sense, this social network has become a collection of bluster, a place where people collect their successes at work and in their personal life, upload photos of their wonderful family, of the expensive car or the extraordinary vacation.
In fact, this phenomenon has a name: the “friendly world síndrome”, which refers to the tendency to think that all of them have a better life than us. This phenomenon is the result of an effect identified by sociologists in 1970 called the “significant world síndrome”, according to which, people who saw a lot of violence on television thought the world was much more violent than it really was. Something similar happens to us with Facebook, looking at pictures and updates, we think that the others are happier than us, which reduces our satisfaction with life and may even cause us depression.
Popularity Contest: The friendship paradox
There could be another problem underlying the dissatisfaction and sadness that generates Facebook, the feeling that everybody is more popular than us. It is known as the “friendship paradox” because, as a rule, our friends tend to have more friends than us.
This phenomenon is due to a simple mathematical reason: if you’re an introvert, there is a good chance that among your friends there are many extroverted people, which in turn have many friends. It is a prejudice that becomes even more apparent in social networks because with a quick look at the profile we can know how popular our friends are.
This discovery could sadden many people making them think that they are not worthy of attention or affection from their friends, and this could cause depression.
What would happen if you stop using Facebook?
This question is what some psychologists of the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen asked themselves, and to respond to it have recruited more than 1,000 users of this social network. Half of them continued to use the internet daily, the other half has stopped completely.
It is noteworthy that after only one week, 88% of people who have stopped using the social network reported feeling happier, less angry, more excited, less depressed, and more satisfied with their lives. Similarly, it was noted that their stress level has decreased by 55%.
These psychologists have also found that we tend to focus on what others have. The study revealed that 5 out of 10 people envy the wonderful experiences that others post on the social network, 1 out of 3 people envy the apparent happiness of others, and 4 of 10 envy the apparent success of others.
Of course, isn’t Facebook that is reducing our satisfaction with life and makes us feel bad, but our tendency to confront and the cognitive biases that appear during the process. But the fact remains that the way in which this network is structured greatly facilitates such comparisons.
Therefore, the best solution is to focus on our real life, beyond the digital profiles, and avoid comparisons that do not bring anything to us. We have to begin to focus on what we really need, rather than on what others have.
Lundby, M. et. Al. (2015) The Facebook experiment. Does social media affects the quality of our lives? The Happiness Research Institute.
Kross, E. et. Al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE; 8(8).