Our Facebook feeds are filled with happy posts and smiling faces, from vacation photos to engagement announcements to news of a promotion. But does scrolling through these updates increase our own level of happiness? New research suggests not—and that the lives of our friends are probably highly edited.
To examine how social networks contribute to our wellbeing, the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen conducted a study of 1,095 Facebook users, 94 percent of whom visited the website as part of their daily routine. The researchers polled the participants on their Facebook habits, then split them into two groups for a week-long experiment. One group was asked to continue using Facebook like normal, and the other group refrained from using the social network for the week.
After just seven days, 88 percent of the group who gave up Facebook reported feeling happy, compared to 81 percent of the group who had stayed on. The group who didn’t use Facebook also reported feeling more enthusiastic, and they were 18 percent more likely to feel present in the moment. They increased their social activity, reported feeling more satisfied with their social life, and felt they wasted their time less than the group who stayed connected.
The group who continued using the site was 55 percent likely to feel more stressed, experienced more difficulty concentrating, and reported feeling lonelier. The researchers hypothesized that this is likely due to “Facebook envy,” or the tendency to focus on what other people have.
“We wanted to investigate the constant bombardment of great news, and how that social comparison affects how we value ourselves,” said Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Institute. “The new thing is that social media such as Facebook is a really brilliant channel at positioning yourself into social hierarchy, and allows you to present a certain side of yourself.”
According to the study, 69 percent of Facebook users prefer to post pictures of the great things they experience—but being exposed to the happiness of our friends isn’t translating into personal satisfaction. In fact, 39 percent of the participants said they feel less happy than their friends, and one-third said they envy how happy other people seem on Facebook.
“The main takeaway from this study is awareness of the negative aspects that social comparisons have, and how we should be mindful of how Facebook and social media affect how we evaluate our lives,” Wiking said. “And maybe [we should] change our behavior a little bit. Perhaps make people show not just the good side.”
Research has previously linked Facebook to depression, and one study showed that posting the perfect photo prevents people from enjoying life experiences. Our solution? Try posting more of life’s unfiltered moments, and join us by using #WomenIRL.