Is Facebook Making You Miserable?
Beware, active Facebook users! The cost of all those friends just might be your happiness, according to researchers at Utah Valley University.
A new study published in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (yup, that’s right!) reports that active Facebook users are more likely to report themselves unhappy and unsatisfied relative to their friends.
The research draws on a survey that asked undergraduates when they joined Facebook and how many hours they spend on it each week. It then asked how much they agreed with the following three statements:
· Many of my friends have a better life than me.
· Many of my friends are happier than me.
· I believe strongly that life is fair.
And you wanna know what makes people feel unhappy and unsatisfied relative to their friends? Facebook.
Frequent Facebook users are more likely to report that their friends have better lives than they do and that their friends are happier than they are. According to the research, as the number of Facebook friends on your friend list who you don’t personally know increases, so too does the likelihood that you report that others have a better life. Likewise, early adopters – those who have been using Facebook for the longest period of time – are more likely to feel that others are happier than they are and that life is unfair.
So, what should we make of these findings? The authors suggest that frequent users recall recent Facebook content that lures them into thinking others are happier. The researchers write, “looking at happy pictures of others on Facebook gives people an impression that others are “always” happy and having good lives, as evident from these pictures of happy moments.” The more frequently you log onto Facebook, the more frequently you are reminded of all the fun activities your friends are doing.
But I’m skeptical of this interpretation.
Instead, I suspect that the causal arrow runs the other way. It’s not that using Facebook frequently makes you unhappy; it’s that unhappiness makes you use Facebook more frequently. Running the causal arrow the first way, as the study authors do, suggests that scrolling through pictures of my friends’ weddings, children and island vacations causes me to perceive myself as unhappy. Running it the other way, as I suspect is more appropriate, suggests that the only reason I’m scrolling through your pictures is because I’m already unhappy.
To be fair, though, maybe the causal arrow doesn’t really matter. I mean, I don’t need to log into Facebook to see your wedding pictures and island vacations to make me unhappy. I actually get sad simply thinking about the number of hours I’ve wasted on Facebook …