The flashing of the bulb-light is blinding. Giggles emerge from friends as they stand skin-to-skin with their bodies curved and arched in various wraps of each other. Another flash, another giggle, and still another. The flashes are filling the room like dancing fireflies circling in an exotic pattern.
Then, the friend’s faces go blank. They freeze as if a creator has just pressed the pause button. Their faces immediately come together and stick like hot taffy as they are pulled downward to look at the glowing mirror in their hands. They are checking the mirror to reveal any imperfections in their beauty, searching for the proof of perfection within the electronic crystal ball. They are posting selfies on social media.
Such planned and seemingly posed happiness comes from social media. Research has shown that social media is an integral part of today’s modern society, both personally and professionally, but at what expense?
Studies show that social media can be both positive and negative in effect to our happiness and well-being. Simplifying and decluttering your news feeds and friends lists has shown to greatly increase your overall happiness.
Social media has brought virtual relationship engagement into our lives. Just as the written letter and the telephone have done in generations before, social media allow for community and personal relationship building, just with new communication technology.
It is estimated that young people can spend up to 80 percent of their day virtually on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat.1 Experts say this can be a good thing.
“Usage of social media to connect to and communicate with the ones we care about is always healthy, termed as social networking.”1
Research also indicates that social media can lead to negative feelings of self and general unhappiness. But most research shows that social media can be a mixed bag of both positive and negative consequences, depending on your intention and usage.
According to a few studies, both positives and negatives arise from social media use.2,3
“Specific uses of the site were associated with improvements in well-being: Receiving targeted, composed communication from strong ties was associated with improvements in well-being… Social comparison theory suggests that some types of online communication can harm well-being.”2
Personal engagement is what makes social media users happy and more likely to report positive feelings of well being.2
Examples of positive activities include:
Direct communication (i.e. messages, posts, comments, mentions, etc. specifically addressed to you or mention your name).
One-click communications (receiving a like or a thumbs-up icon).
Self posting pictures and news about yourself.
These examples have shown positive feelings in the lab, and are similar to other uses of social bonding and maintaining relationships, such as telephone calls and spending time together. People who share more feel as if they are talking more, like spending time conversing with friends, just in a virtual setting.2
“We find that directed communication is associated with greater feelings of bonding social capital and lower loneliness,” the researchers said.3 “People derive benefits from online communication, as long it comes from others they care about and has been tailored for them.”2
And the Bad
Just like many things in life, the good can also come with a dose of bad. Researchers have found that comparisons are the greatest negative to social media.
Humans are drawn toward highlighting the positive and good things in their own lives. Similar to writing a letter or talking by telephone to a friend, people tend to focus on the positive news and highlights of their lives; and social media is not any different. To this end, when viewing others within social media, users are seeing the highlight reels and comparing this virtual reality against their own personal reality.
Social comparison has a negative effect. “Social media may lead us to believe that other people’s lives are better through social comparison.”4
“Online content with branded shoes, concert, leisure activities and photo editing skills bring the feeling of envy to the individual,” one study showed.5
Researchers have even named this specific trait — Social Comparison Orientation (SCO) and pointed this specific factor to lead to increased levels of loneliness and a reduction in overall happiness.6
Another negative that science has shown is the amount of time spent online in a virtual world and the lack of time spent in the physical reality, similar to the effects of too much video game time.
“Social dysfunction occurs when the constant communication leads to the point where our real or offline life gets replaced by virtual or online life. There is a slight boundary between social networking and social dysfunction. When social networking is advantageous, social dysfunction affects emotional well-being. When emotional well-being is affected, many users experience a compulsion to dissociate from the real world as they find virtual world, full of fantasy and enjoyment.”1
Like eating little bits of candy all day everyday, researchers have coined another term, “social snacking.” Social snacking is when you pick up your phone, out of habit or boredom, and just check in to social media for a second. Some users can just check in several times per day, like habitual snacking, can lead to an overindulgence of social media. One study showed that 30 minutes per day is the sweet spot.7
Disconnect and Unfollow — How to Simplify Your Social Media
Use social media for connection.
Like writing a letter, or phoning a friend, social media keeps us in touch with family and friends. This is a beautiful thing.
Use social media as entertainment.
Watch videos and browse articles. This provides entertainment, just like watching a movie or picking up a magazine. (But be mindful of what sources are filing your feeds.)
Highlight reels only give the best portions of someone’s story. Stop comparing your real life to the glamor of Hollywood, or Suburban Reno.
Eliminate social snacking.
Avoid checking for bits and pieces throughout the day. Designate a time for social media, like during your lunch break or after you put the kids to bed.
Limit your time.
Research has shown that there is a sweet spot for the affect of social media on happiness. And that sweet spot is thirty minutes per day.7
Unfollow those that don’t spark joy. It’s OK.
Find yourself frowning at the screen? Rolling your eyes when certain topics are trending? Delete, unfollow and move on. Social media is your design. Fill it with only things that make you happy.
Stick to an image-based platform.
Research has shown that image-based platforms (like Instagram and Snapchat) make people happier than text-based platforms (like Twitter).8
CC The text cited in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Graciyal, D. Guna, and Deepa Viswam. “Social Media and Emotional Well-Being: Pursuit of Happiness or Pleasure.” Asia Pacific Media Educator, vol. 31, no. 1, June 2021, pp. 99–115. SAGE Journals, Original Material.
Burke, Moira, and Robert E. Kraut. “The Relationship Between Facebook Use and Well-Being Depends on Communication Type and Tie Strength.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 21, no. 4, July 2016, pp. 265–81. Silverchair, Original Material.
Yang, Chia-chen. “Instagram Use, Loneliness, and Social Comparison Orientation: Interact and Browse on Social Media, But Don’t Compare.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. 2016, pp. 703–08. liebertpub.com (Atypon), Original Material.
Teo, Winston Jin Song, and Chei Sian Lee. “Sharing Brings Happiness?: Effects of Sharing in Social Media Among Adult Users.” Digital Libraries: Knowledge, Information, and Data in an Open Access Society, edited by Atsuyuki Morishima et al., Springer International Publishing, 2016, pp. 351–65. Springer Link, Original Material.
Ping, Yow Jing, et al. “Happy, or Unhappy? That’s the Question: A Study on Social Media Use and Happiness of University Students.” Innovative Teaching and Learning Journal (ITLJ), vol. 4, no. 2, 2, Dec. 2020, pp. 49–58. Original Material.
Hunt, Melissa G., et al. “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, vol. 37, no. 10, Dec. 2018, pp. 751–68. guilfordjournals.com (Atypon), Original Material.
Wansbrough, Aleks, and Donna Freitas. “Social Media and The Happiness Effect: Interview with Donna Freitas, August 22, 2019.” Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture, vol. 5, no. 1, 2020, pp. 108–13.
Manago, Adriana M., and Lanen Vaughn. “Social Media, Friendship, and Happiness in the Millennial Generation.” Friendship and Happiness: Across the Life-Span and Cultures, edited by Melikşah Demir, Springer Netherlands, 2015, pp. 187–206. Springer Link, Original Material.
Graciyal, D. Guna, and Deepa Viswam. “Social Media and Emotional Well-Being: Pursuit of Happiness or Pleasure.” Asia Pacific Media Educator, vol. 31, no. 1, June 2021, pp. 99–115. SAGE Journals, https://doi.org/10.1177/1326365X211003737.
Burke, Moira, and Robert E. Kraut. “The Relationship Between Facebook Use and Well-Being Depends on Communication Type and Tie Strength.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 21, no. 4, July 2016, pp. 265–81. Silverchair, https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12162.
Burke, Moira, et al. “Social Network Activity and Social Well-Being.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Association for Computing Machinery, 2010, pp. 1909–12. ACM Digital Library, https://doi.org/10.1145/1753326.1753613.
Chae, Jiyoung. “Reexamining the Relationship between Social Media and Happiness: The Effects of Various Social Media Platforms on Reconceptualized Happiness.” Telematics and Informatics, vol. 35, no. 6, Sept. 2018, pp. 1656–64. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2018.04.011.
Ping, Yow Jing, et al. “Happy, or Unhappy? That’s the Question: A Study on Social Media Use and Happiness of University Students.” Innovative Teaching and Learning Journal (ITLJ), vol. 4, no. 2, 2, Dec. 2020, pp. 49–58. http://184.108.40.206/itlj/index.php/itlj/article/view/61.
Yang, Chia-chen. “Instagram Use, Loneliness, and Social Comparison Orientation: Interact and Browse on Social Media, But Don’t Compare.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. 2016, pp. 703–08. liebertpub.com (Atypon), https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/cyber.2016.0201.
Hunt, Melissa G., et al. “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, vol. 37, no. 10, Dec. 2018, pp. 751–68. guilfordjournals.com (Atypon), https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751.
Pittman, Matthew, and Brandon Reich. “Social Media and Loneliness: Why an Instagram Picture May Be Worth More than a Thousand Twitter Words.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 62, Sept. 2016, pp. 155–67. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.03.084.
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