Is Facebook Making You Miserable?

Danish researchers looked at how Facebook affects the emotions of users and found that people were generally less happy and more anxious than their nonparticipant counterparts.

by / November 13, 2015

Most of us have been there, stuck in social media’s cruel introspective grasp. For me, it was opening Facebook to see in my news feed that a former classmate had just purchased his first (and likely not last) Ferrari. 

I remember thinking, “Where the hell did I go wrong?” I don’t even like the new Ferraris — I’m more of a classic car guy myself — but it’s really the principle of the thing. Who buys a sports car like that at 30? Not me, that’s who.

For millions of social media users around the world, our heavily tailored view into other peoples’ lives is more than just a way to while away the hours; it is also making us considerably less happy, according to a new study (PDF).

The Happiness Institute, a Denmark-based think tank dedicated to, well, human happiness, studied exactly how Facebook affects the joviality and emotions of users. 

What the institute found, which comes as no surprise to someone still in the clutches of consumerist heartache, is that Facebookers are noticeably less happy than the study subjects enlisted to ignore the siren call of the popular website.

More than 1,090 Danes took part in the week-long study. According to the institute’s figures, 94 percent of them visited the site on a daily basis, 86 percent browsed the news feed often to very often, and nearly 70 percent preferred to post pictures of the positive things they experience — like, say, when they break the sound barrier in their shiny, new supercar.

 

 

After only a week of going dark on the site, the test group pointed to “a significantly higher level of life satisfaction.” The benefits of cutting the digital cord also stretched into the other human emotions.  

“On the last day of the experiment, we asked both groups what moods they had experienced that day. People who had taken a break from Facebook felt happier and were less sad and lonely,” the report cites.

The test group showed increases in happiness, enthusiasm and decisiveness, while showing decreases in depression, anger and anxiety. 

“People on Facebook are 55 percent more likely to feel stressed,” the report said. “People taking a break from Facebook are 18 percent more likely to feel present in the moment.”

Those not partaking in a digital social life were also more likely to experience actual, real-life social interactions and find more satisfaction from those interactions. Imagine that — talking to real people and enjoying it. Groundbreaking. 

While the study group was fairly small and limited to Denmark, it does raise some interesting questions about the social tools and technology we tend to embrace without question, as well as how we gauge our own lives and happiness.

“Instead of focusing on what we actually need, we have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what other people have,” reads the report.

As much as I hate to admit it ... guilty as charged.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.